Dirigo Rataplan is a group led by drummer Devin Gray that contains three outstanding musicians with Baltimore ties, saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, trumpeter Dave Ballou and bassist Michael Formanek. They first recorded in 2012, and six years later they have released a followup CD, Dirigo Rataplan II, with a rambunctious inside-outside style that is based on strong melodies and rhythms but still allows plenty of room for fiery improvisation.
Several of the tracks are built around heavy rumbling bass lines by Formanek and rustling drum accents by Grey, with Ballou and Eskelin soaring above them either together or separately. From this approach comes results like chatty horn singing over a thick, tarry groove on "Trends of Trending," a snakey rhumba beat matched with cool, intertwined horn lines on "Congruently," and sax and trumpet playing languid, yearning lines together over a quick-stepping combination of march and waltz on "What We Learn From Cities."
"The Wire" starts with a rare note of lively quartet unity but then breaks apart into a bed of tugging bass and rolling drums that grounds abstract horn solos. Eskelin moans long, low notes and Ballou emerges high and bubbly. "Quantum Cryptology" uses a similar gambit but with a slower, spacier feel, opening on a mournful unison melody and progressing through deep singing tenor over strummed bass and ear-piercing trumpet over rattling percussion. "Feeling of Healing" takes things even farther out. It begins as a slow, grand melody then dissipates into squealing abstraction featuring Formanek scrabbling furiously with his bow and the horn players making wispy, ghostly noises.
On "Texicate" Gray and Eskelin putter about in small patterns before Ballou and Formanek join them in a sea of small, nervous gestures that eventually come together into a trembling mass, and on "Intrepid Travelers" Ballou and Eskelin take slow lyrical excursions both in unison and opposition to each other held together by the strutting, slow-walk rhythm maintained by Formanek and Gray.
Michael Formanek's bass is the secret weapon of this session, the thick, groaning fulcrum that gives shape and weight to the improvisational flights of his partners. He also gets a well-deserved spotlight in his leathery solo turn on "Travelers." The entire quartet plays with a free-wheeling daring mixed with earthy grit in a manner reminiscent of some of the bands of Ornette Coleman or Henry Threadgill. This is a high-flying, breathtaking slice of up-to-the-minute jazz from four musicians at the top of their games.
Congruently; Rollin' Thru Town; Trends of Trending; Texicate; The Wire; Quantum Cryptology; What We Learn From Cities; The Feeling of Healing (for Steve Grover); Intrepid Travelers; Micro Dosage.
Devin Gray: drums; Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone; Michael Formanek: bass; Dave Ballou: trumpet.
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