A modern composer and guitarist, Dan Bruce spent a decade taking advantage of the Chicago jazz scene while working such rooms as The Green Mill and The Jazz Showcase. In addition to making his mark as a creative writer, he also spent time making music with such heavy hitters as Seamus Blake
, Ali Jackson
, and Dan Wall
. Since 2017, Bruce has made his home in Northeast Ohio and has continued to turn heads with his original music and prowess as a powerful improviser.
Bruce's :beta collective was first assembled in Chicago back in 2015 as a vehicle for his original compositions and currently sports an A-List of Ohio's brightest improvisers. The group's second album builds on Bruce's ability to tailor make his compositions fit the talents of the ensemble. This is music that borders largely on extensive scoring, with solos being an organic part of the whole. In fact, many of the pieces find Bruce shifting much of the solo space to others, most notably trombonist Caleb Smith
The title track opens the album in a majestic style. with Bruce's wildly distorted guitar ushering in a heavy fusion groove. Throughout the album, the guitar serves as another voice within the harmonies of the three horns. Recalling the musical attitudes of peers such as guitarists Ben Monder
, Mike Moreno
, and Kurt Rosenwinkel
, Bruce's lines move in unpredictable ways and tell a story in a highly engaging manner. As the piece evolves, the tenor of Chris Coles
keeps the incendiary mood burning before Bruce's sinewave guitar tones conclude a colorful musical adventure.
Both "Blueprint" and "The Walk" strike a balance between established rhythmic continuums and the exploratory nature of Bruce's music. The former sports a searching melody line punctuated nicely by Brad Wagner
's bass clarinet, with plenty of space for the crystalline phrases of Will Wedmedyk
's vibraphone. Angular horn lines with guitar accents mark the latter number, which takes on a funky view complemented by Aidan Plank
's electric bass.
Listening closely, one can detect the influence of music from the ECM canon. Taking a cue from Ralph Towner
(ECM, 1978), Bruce expands on such known musical landscapes with his "Insignificance (A Love Song)." Nylon string guitar, in a minimal setting with bass and drums, helps paint the sunny mood, while giving us a better picture of Bruce's talents as an improviser. In the electric vein, the same thing can be said about "Slant," a cagey number that gets its propulsion from Anthony Taddeo
's interactive drumming.
A tip of the hat to an acknowledged influence, "You Vs. You (For Bill Frisell)," speaks in hushed tones at first, just featuring the horns. Angular melodies develop as guitar and vibes fall in, contributing to the lush carpet that supports Theron Brown
's melodica. The most traditional piece of the lot, "Moth Flame Blues," wraps up an ambitious offering with engaging contributions from Wedmedyk, Brown, and Brad Wagner
on soprano saxophone.
At a period in time where too much new jazz music takes a posture of complexity and abstruseness just for the sake of being different, Bruce's :beta collective benefits from a more matured state of mind. A perfect balance between the known and the exploratory is the key to engagement, and on this count, one couldn't ask for more.
Time to Mind the Mystics; Blueprint; Insignificance (A Love Song); Slant; The Walk; You Vs. You;
Not Knowing; Moth
Dan Bruce- electric guitar, nylon string guitar, Ableton programming, compositions