Brandi Disterheft: Brandi Disterheft: Debut

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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Rarely has a musician been so fearless on his or her first record as leader. Disterheft has pulled out the stops. She has composed music in various challenging and complex meters...
Brandi Disterheft
Superfran Records

While the rest of the world was talking about Esperanza Spaulding another bassist has been busy making a quiet noise, in a voice all her own. Brandi Disterheft's mature bass playing—both pizzicato and arco—and her ability to write original material and arrange with a natural ear for the tones and textures of strings, brass and woodwinds speak volumes of lessons learned from—at least spiritually—the legendary Charles Mingus.

The incredibly gifted Disterheft has all at once crossed the threshold of first albums and pushed the horizon much further than any musician of her vintage. Debut (Superfran Records, 2007) is a truly remarkable achievement. The album has nine original compositions that are not just original, but appear to have come from a voice so distinctive that one can safely say, "You've never heard anything like this before." Unless you were the late Oscar Peterson, in which case you might say, "She has the same lope or rhythmic pulse as my bassist, Ray Brown. She is what we call serious." And that, Dr. Peterson, would be putting it all too mildly.

Rarely has a musician been so fearless on his or her first record as leader. Disterheft has pulled out the stops. She has composed music in various challenging and complex meters, written arrangements using tonal colorations to match, and pushed her musicians into interpreting her work on the cutting edge of their own abilities. She has also—and this is rare too—been bold enough to write words to some songs and have them sung by the smoky-voiced young musician, Sophia Perlman. From the evidence of lyrics for "Auto-Beauties" and "If Only," Brandi Disterheft is a lyric poet as well and Perlman is perfect for the moody saudade of the songs, created in no small measure by the texture of the interplay of horns and piano.

By her own admission, Disterheft set out to make her record a show of respect to those musicians who inspired her and provided the impetus for her own music. But this is far from being a tribute album. It is a brave and successful attempt to give back to jazz in several settings—trio, quartet, quintet, and more. The album is beautifully paced, right from the trio opening on "Pennywort." You immediately get a sense that nothing will ever be the same. The idiom of the music here is quirky, and like the best jazz, surprising—especially in the climactic bridge that leads into a piano break fed by a subtle rattling of and swoosh of the cymbals—a calming wind to settle the song after it has taken flight. Disterheft's bass plays a harmolodic role throughout.

"Dandy Dangle" brings horns in counterpoint with guitar and piano. Pianist David Virelles shines here, building his solo from the ground-up, atonal at first, then with sweeping runs into a Thelonious Monk-like architectural soundscape, before drummer Sly Juhas deconstructs the rhythm, turning it inside out, then returns it to its bop melody. This track is followed by the most ambitious one of the disc. "Duke's Dead" is a complex, towering vehicle for its bassist and composer. The dirge-like arco opening, then the dialogue between Disterheft and Juhas and the sly entry of the horns recalls the best Mingus-Richmond tradition, even working the changes from a classic, "Moanin,'" from Mingus' Blues & Roots ( Atlantic, 1959).

"Typhoon The 27th Hour" has a fine free chart that features a charged harmonic interplay between the searching, scorching tenor of Chris Gale and Disterheft, running riot over the bass, while Juhas keeps things going with his chord-like rumbling on toms and tympanis. "Sixty Dollar Train," another straight-ahead song with a surprising Latin break, is a fine vehicle for guitarist Nathan Hiltz to shine on, with his gazelle-like romp through the melody as the horns rumble in contrapuntal harmony. Alexander Brown takes a well-paced solo on flugelhorn. "Dah Knee Low" is a fine chart featuring subtle changes to harmony and rhythm, an oblique reference to the music of pianist Danilo Perez, who also happens to be one of Disterheft's teachers. The pianism of Adrian Ferrugia here is outstanding, as is the bluesy, dry tenor of Gale. Disterheft makes the bass sing as she solos.

Debut is the kind of first album that most musicians can only dream of to launch their careers. Praise is also due to fellow West Coaster, Michael Kaeshammer, a fine musician in his own right, for the production.

Tracks: Pennywort; Dandy Dangle; Duke's Dead; Auto-Beauties; Typhoon The 27th Hour; If Only; Sixty Dollar Train; Dah Knee Low; Little Space I Need to Fill (aka Detroit).

Personnel: Chris Gale: tenor saxophone (2, 3, 5, 7, 8), baritone saxophone (4); Alexander Brown: trumpet (2, 3), flugelhorn (4, 7); Nathan Hiltz: guitar (2, 7); David Virelles: piano (2, 4, 6, 7); Adrian Ferrugia: piano (1, 8, 9); Brandi Disterheft: bass; Sly Juhas: drums.

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