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Dave Bryant: The Garden of Equilibria

Dave Wayne By

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As one of the few keyboardists to perform and record with Ornette Coleman on a consistent basis, Dave Bryant stands alongside the likes of Geri Allen and Paul Bley. Yet, Bryant is not nearly as well-known. A Berklee graduate who studied privately with Coleman starting in 1983, Bryant's first appearance on record was with the trio Shock Exchange (self produced, 1986) which also featured drummer Chris Bowman and bassist John Turner (who later appeared on recordings by Either/Orchestra and Charlie Kohlhase). An unhinged and energetic foray strongly influenced by harmolodic music theories, the LP also features a brief but enthusiastic liner note by Coleman himself: a harbinger of things to come. Bryant worked with Coleman off and on through the 1990s, and appears on Tone Dialing (Harmolodic / Verve Records, 1995). Bryant's first album as a leader, The Eternal Hang (Accurate Records, 1999) featured the Shock Exchange rhythm section augmented by drummer Bob Gullotti and ace tenor saxophonist George Garzone. The Garden of Equilibria is only Bryant's second as a leader, and it is quite the treat. Fans of Ornette's recordings with Prime Time, will immediately recognize the sweet-and-sour sounds of harmolodics. Not one to rest on his laurels or remain immersed in the past, Bryant's take on harmolodic theory is fresh and ever-evolving. The Garden of Equilibria also reveals Bryant as a well-rounded, extraordinarily intelligent musician whose personal style encompasses a dizzying variety of other influences.

Each track on The Garden of Equilibria is really different. The two solo piano pieces tread a fine line between spontaneity and meditative thought; free and not-free. "Solo No. 2," for all its abstraction and odd juxtapositions, is actually quite grooving. A careful listen reveals Bryant's foot tapping along throughout. "Solo No. 1," a variation on a similar set of harmonic, rhythmic and melodic threads, is gentler and almost ballad-like at times. Here, the result is somewhat reminiscent of Bley's solo piano music from the 70s and 80s.

The vast bulk of the album, however, features a seasoned, virtuosic band. On these tracks, Bryant's musical directions encompass Ornette-inspired melodies, thorny post-Bitches' Brew electric jazz, and crafty, contrapuntal free-bop. There are two very long tracks and three shorter pieces. The first of the two lengthy pieces, "Four Ways In" is actually a four-part suite. A stark, all-acoustic opening passage quickly gives way to a high-energy romp in 6/8. Bryant's busy comping (on what sounds like a Wurlitzer electric piano) and the ever-shifting dual percussing of Curt Newton and Eric Rosenthal provide a contrasting backdrop to an out-of-tempo, melismatic dual saxophone melody. The rhythm shifts to 4/4 and breaks down entirely for an extended rubato collective improvisation which, itself, breaks for a blazing keyboard solo as the 6/8 motif returns. The title track, which clocks in at just under 20 minutes, is a conversational free-ish piece featuring cellist Jeff Song, both percussionists and bassist Jacob William. Here, Bryant solos primarily on the acoustic piano, using the electronic keys to make brief thematic statements. Pretty thorny stuff!

Song stays on, and the saxophonists return for "Check Your Lid," a joyous piece that mates a singing Keith Jarrett-like country-Gospel melody to wonderfully restless dual free-bop drumming. "Salutations" is less frenetic, with Bryant's Rhodes piano bubbling freely over grooving dual drums and bass as Song's cello groans and mutters in the background. "Secret Handshake" is a real surprise. Back on the acoustic, accompanied only by William's vigorous walking bass, Bryant's improvisation here nods to stride and bebop in addition to more recent styles.

An individualistic pianist and composer, Bryant's readily-palpable harmolodic influences are balanced and leavened by a host of other strands from the jazz continuum. The Garden of Equilibria is a fascinating and inspiring album, especially if you're a fan of edgy, hard-hitting electronic jazz that is not afraid to get way out there.

Track Listing: Four Ways In; Solo No. 2; The Garden of Equilibria; Check Your Lid; Solo No. 1; Salutations; Secret Handshake.

Personnel: Dave Bryant: piano, electronic keyboards; Tom Hall: tenor saxophone; Neil Leonard: soprano and alto saxophones; Curt Newton: drums and percussion; Eric Rosenthal: drums and percussion; Jeff Song: cello; Jacob William: bass.

Title: The Garden of Equilibria | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Self Produced

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