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Mike Pride's From Bacteria To Boys: Betweenwhile

John Sharpe By

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Even though drummer/composer Mike Pride has appeared on over 70 albums, ranging from avant rock to blues, he remains not as well-known as he might be in the jazz field. Betweenwhile is likely to change that. Pride's From Bacteria to Boys has existed in various lineups since 2005, but the current foursome first came together in 2009 and clicked immediately. Although the drummer's collaborators exhibit a similarly eclectic work ethic (with the likes of saxophonist Darius Jones, a rising star of avant jazz but equally comfortable in speed-metal-meets-free-jazz collective Little Women), everyone bends to Pride's conception.

The whole band negotiates Pride's constructs so smoothly that listening with half an ear might suggest that this was yet another modern mainstream outing, but that would be to miss the subversive nature of what Pride is attempting here. It is contemporary mainstream seen through a distorting lens: nothing is quite as it seems. In a program of ten cuts, nine stem from the leader's pen, with the odd man out being by his friend reedman Uli Kempendorff. Multi-sectioned compositions are interspersed with more straightforward numbers. Perhaps the only clue that this is a drummer-led group comes from the expansive metric wit, drawing from the hip hop to R&B that Pride incorporates so deftly into a jazz context, reminiscent of pianist Craig Taborn's rhythmically charged trio with Gerald Cleaver behind the trap set.

Sandwiching the meat of the set are two versions of the enigmatic "Kancamagus," the first being a slow burner for piano trio, while the closer brings Jones onboard in an open ballad. Though sounding like something Bill Evans might be proud of, as Sam Mickens' enthusiastic and illuminating liners explain, the writing integrates tone rows along with interpolations of "My One And Only Love," which might account for the piece's otherworldly ambience. Other compositional oddities include "Bole: the Mouth of What?," where Jones' and pianist Alexis Marcelo's asymmetric reiterations are based on precise transcriptions of carnival barkers from Prides' Maine childhood home. Now it's not necessary to know any of this to appreciate the music, but it confirms a fertile imagination, seeking new ways to go beyond the quotidian. More traditional structures include the distilled hard bop of "Rose," with Marcelo spraying sparkling piano droplets at a sprightly tempo, and the wittily titled "Emo Hope," featuring Jones in a plaintive and tender alto saxophone discourse.

Everyone plays within themselves, but in a good way, making easy transitions between the written and the extemporized, in the context of the tight arrangements. Marcelo, who is veteran reedman Yusef Lateef's pianist of choice, shows himself to be deserving of wider recognition, most ably demonstrated on "It Doesn't Stop," where his jazzy lines fragment and fracture into dissonance, unheeded by the onrushing beat. Kempendorff's "Surcharge" draws the most animated performance of the set, with Marcelo's rippling solo degenerating into pummeling bursts which Cecil Taylor would recognize, and Jones unfettered alto culminating in gobbling multiphonics. Elsewhere the saxophonist sticks within more conventional registers, but still weights his notes with a broad soulful vibrato.

This is a disc likely to be there or thereabouts when those yearend lists get enumerated.

Track Listing: Kancamagus; Reese Witherspoon; Rose; It Doesn't Stop; Emo Hope; Bole: the Mouth of What?; Inbetweenwhile; Surcharge; 12 Lines for Build; Kancamagus.

Personnel: Darius Jones: alto saxophone; Peter Bitenc: bass; Alexis Marcelo: piano; Mike Pride: drums.

Title: Betweenwhile | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: AUM Fidelity


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