Dialectical Imagination is a duo comprised of pianist Eli Wallace
and percussionist Rob Pumpelly
, both of whom are dedicated to finding an approach to free improvisation that draws from their other interests in chamber music and composition. The six tracks included on this intriguingly-titled release do offer some provocative possibilities in that direction, providing idiosyncratic and compelling improvisations that retain vital thematic musical gestures.
In addition to his prior experience as a guitarist with avant-rock ensembles like miRthkon and the Flying Luttenbachers, Pumpelly cut his teeth studying composition at Mills College with avant-garde luminaries like Fred Frith
, Pauline Oliveros
and Alvin Curran
, and he's credited here with much of the compositional concept behind Dialectical Imagination. It's hard to discern exactly how much of the music is played extemporaneously and how much of it has a pre-planned logic, but from the rich opening chords and tentative upper-register forays of the aptly-named "Refusing Confusion," one can tell that this record will hardly be a free-jazz freak-out session. Wallace has a powerful delivery, amply demonstrated by the forceful shards of notes scattered throughout "Turnabout," or the percussive torrents of "Rungs," but it's never out-of-control, as even in the most tumultuous moments of the music there's a lyrical quality just under the surface.
The duo's distinctive sound is heard to best effect on the lengthiest of the cuts, "Sky in Eye, Free of 'I,'" where at over twelve minutes Wallace and Pumpelly have plenty of room to develop their ideas. Wallace's rubato arpeggios start the track in a pensive vein, with Pumpelly joining in with brushes, before Wallace begins to guide the music in a much more adventurous direction. Intricate, boisterous lines take flight, and a gradual surge of intensity builds as Wallace's left-hand pyrotechnics fuel the accrual of energy, only to have it recede as the track draws back to find its lyrical center, as Wallace's arpeggios again sustain a moment of calm before the final explosion of intensity ensues, and Pumpelly switches from brushes to sticks as the tempest is unleashed. But even here, there is a musical undercurrent to the piece that emerges glimmeringly amidst Wallace's relentless chordal attack and Pumpelly's percussive barrage. Despite its undeniable aggression, deeply-rooted musical elements are always present, creating a certain paradoxical beauty that emerges from the turmoil.
This record offers plenty of the freedom and the sense of boundless musical potential that pure improvisation can provide. But it's their willingness to bring an emotional sensitivity, and just the right amount of structure, to the music that helps Wallace and Pumpelly create something unique enough to help them stand out amidst the crowded field of free improvisers. A fine release, and one worthy of wider recognition.