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David Ake: Bridges

Dan Bilawsky By

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Experimentalist composer Gavin Bryars once proclaimed that "music history has flowed under the bridges for many years." That particular quote adorns the inside flap of pianist David Ake's Bridges which, like Bryars' statement itself, contains many a mystery about music, bridges and history. The pieces that Ake presents herein are modernistic, wide-ranging and wholly original. Melodic stability and consonance come in unlikely form and cacophony liberally colors the water that Ake swims in, yet the water feels just right. While Bryars seemed to be focused on the music beneath the bridges, Ake seems to be more concerned with bridges themselves; these connective forces are central to his work.

Ake—who just settled into the position of chair of the Department of Music at Case Western Reserve University at the time of this writing—knows a thing or two about music and history. His educational background in musicology, which culminated in the attainment of a Ph.D. from U.C.L.A in 1998, and his books—Jazz Cultures (University of California Press, 2002) and Jazz Matters (University of California Press, 2010)—bear that out, but he doesn't let his intellect bog down his recorded work. He balances inside-outside sounds on Bridges, no doubt looking to challenge—but not alienate—those on the giving and receiving end(s) of his music.

Ake plays a game of bait-and-switch throughout the album. He starts off with two songs that paint him as a pattern-istic composer ("Bridges" and "Sonomads") of sorts, but he erases that notion with a bright solo piano episode ("Waterfront"). Then, just when it seems things might be moving toward a central avenue of expression, Ake leans left again with "Story Table." A Thelonious Monk-cum-Ornette Coleman-ish number follows ("We Do?"), giving the horns a chance to tangle, but the raucous energy of that number doesn't carry over to "Boats (Exit)." The horns provide ghostly coloring beneath Ake's gently floating piano work on this slow-to-unfold number; the long-road development in this piece may be the greatest connection between Ake's music and that of Bryars. As the album continues, intentionally woozy and piquant music makes an appearance ("Year In Review") and uncertainty leads to structure ("Open/Balance"); that balance between the known and unknown actually tends to carry the day here, regardless of the structural specificity of each vehicle.

Ake's stellar sextet, which includes long time friends and Cal Arts classmates like tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, trumpeter Ralph Alessi and bassist Scott Colley, deserves almost as much credit for the success of this album as the man in charge. All of these musicians balance brash blowing with more nuanced forms of expression as they assist David Ake in his bridge-building exploits.

Track Listing: Bridges; Sonomads; Waterfront; Story Table; We Do?; Boats (Exit); Year In Review; Open/Balance; Dodge; Grand Colonial; Light Bright.

Personnel: David Ake: piano; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Scott Colley: bass; Ravi Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Peter Epstein: alto saxophone; Mark Ferber: drums.

Title: Bridges | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records


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