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Dana Reason Trio: Bellingham, Washington July 24, 2010

Michael Boyce By

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Dana Reason Trio
The Amadeus Project
Bellingham, Washington
July 24, 2010

The Dana Reason Trio's recent Angle of Vision Tour performance in Bellingham, Washington consisted mostly of new material, which they were preparing to record a couple of days later at Wild Rose Artists' Studio in Oregon.

Dana Reason has an accomplished background as both a classical and avant-garde composer and pianist, working and recording with such musicians as Cecil Taylor, Pauline Oliveros, George Lewis, Lilse Ellis and Joëlle Léandre. Reason has played in the past in a variety of configurations, some of which have been in a more abstract, experimental vein, but she's also played in the context of a gypsy swing orchestra and comping for a jazz chanteuse. This new Trio, however, presented her work in a unique way. Her composition and performance have evolved to embrace the full spectrum of her diverse background, resulting in a hybrid of styles including East Coast/West Coast jazz, Cuban music, classical music from the Romantic period, world music, and contemporary classical avant-garde music. On paper, this might seem odd or difficult to manage, but it sounded quite alluring. This was not the sort of music that only a musician could understand, and was lush, rich, romantic and complex; evincing a delicate balance between musicality and artistic conception.

Naturally, the success of her aesthetic approach is partly dependent upon who she is playing with, and she has chosen very well in this regard. The Trio, also including bassist Glen Moore (Art Pepper, Carla Bley, Rabih Abou-Khalil, Oregon) and drummer Peter Valsamis (Steve Lacy, Cecil Taylor, Marco Eneidi, challenged the usual expectations for jazz trio arrangements. Rather than bass and drums being configured as a traditional rhythm section, which normally provides general support for the lyrical instrument while taking the odd feature solo, Reason's arrangements encouraged her trio to play as a small orchestral unit, making for a much more dynamic correspondence between musical elements.

Of course, there were solos, and the other players did support them, but they did so with an attention to the total sense of the piece. There wasn't the feeling that the soloist had gone off on his/her own trip, leaving the others to keep the business running while out having fun. Such departures in more typical settings, framed as displays of virtuosity, can be very entertaining, but the members of Reason's trio were able to show such virtuosity without leaving their partners behind. Moore also contributed one of his pieces, "Nightclub Skin," and the relationship between the three players here was consistent with the rest of the material; the dialogue continued, regardless of who began it, so to speak.

Dialogue is very important to Reason's artistic approach, and she included the audience as part of the discussion. The Trio's approach to each individual's playing addressed the audience's experience to keep it situated in the context of the total piece. This sort of inclusion allowed for an overarching sense of totality, of grand narrative, such as might be experienced from 19th century orchestral music (i.e., Romanticism). Indeed, the overall feeling of the music over the course of the evening was, broadly speaking, romantic. Not in the sense of insipid background dinner music (and not that there's anything wrong with that), but rather in the sense of emotional and inspirational drama and narrative. This might seem a bit unusual in the context of a jazz trio, but nevertheless, the Trio managed to blend these elements, while still also evoking and exploring the qualities typical of contemporary jazz: music with a modern sense of progress; of the flow of forward movement and innovation; and which is joyfully unrestrained. It would be very interesting to see dance choreographed to this music.

Reason also related stories to the audience about her sources or inspirations, before performing some of the works, which definitely added to the experience. Still, even though these stories provided rich background, and gave a good sense of Reason's interests and passions, they were not required in order to understand what the pieces were exploring conceptually, because the aesthetic, musical and conceptual exploration ultimately took the same form—the music itself.

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