Since relocating from his native Belgium to New York City, superb drummer and wily composer Raf Vertessen has ingratiated his talents into the region's always burgeoning improv and avant-garde musicscape, performing with upper-echelon musicians, evidenced on this first-rate debut as a leader.
Here, the drummer cites influences from the dynamic international contingent of 1960s free/progressive jazz performers who turned conventional jazz frameworks upside down. The drummer's works include budding layers of sound, by using building blocks amid blossoming cadences, fractured funk beats, free jazz lanes, and gushing outbreaks by trumpeter Adam O'Farrill and tenor saxophonist Anna Webber. But that's not all. The band makes no concessions as they glaringly enjoy formulating all the creative aspects atop a given pulse or theme. Throughout, the frontline delves into cat and mouse-like dialogues and complex, odd-metered unison choruses along with dusty fadeouts or when motifs prompt imagery of the musicians cruising along a curvy hiking trail towards a summit.
The semi-structural components equate to music with a message, absorbed by the ear of the beholder. Moreover, they flirt with minimalism, yet "#4" features Webber's hypersonic lines above frothy undercurrents, where bassist Nick Dunston and the leader propagate a rolling and tumbling pace with unrelenting energy and verve. Rapid-fire solos abound within undulating grooves and offbeat rhythms as the element of surprise is ongoing. Indeed, the program is chock full of tricky mini-arrangements and sizzling dynamics. However, "IRR (1) & #3" is a rather skittish free form romp with a robust gait and numerous dips and spikes. Whereas Vertessen's massive press rolls and snappy hits prod the soloists into exploration mode, leading to brash, regal statements, and more revved up unison choruses as themes reappear and transparently dissolve into nothingness.
The final track, "#2," is introspective with an intimate and solemn undertow, launched by Dunston's weeping arco phrasings. It's an airy tune, although the ensemble opens the playing field during the coda. In sum, Vertessen's quartet turns back the hands of time with an ultra-modern purview on this unexpected 2020-issued gem.