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Drummer Bruce Ditmas’ wish list comes to fruition on the 1995 “Postcards” release titled, What If. Among the noteworthy crop of re-releases from Arkadia Records who now own the Postcards catalogue is this mind boggling work featuring a who’s who of modern jazz stylists such as pianist Paul Bley, bassist Dominic Richards, saxophonist Sam Rivers and guitarist John Abercrombie. According to the liners, Ditmas handed Postcards something similar to a Christmas want-list as they proceeded to round up these consummate and highly influential jazz musicians.
On What If Ditmas slashes and burns while boasting a booming, resonant sound as he provides the thunderous intro for pianist Paul Bley on the opener, “Island Seven”. Here and throughout, Ditmas engages complex polyrhythms in effortless fashion as he provides the enormous pulse behind Abercrombie’s angular and somewhat ferocious attack, which rekindles memories of his now classic ECM release, “Timeless”. The title track, “What If” is electrically charged and proceeds at a feverish pace as the great Sam Rivers’ sinewy and explosive tenor sax work along with the forceful rhythms and turbo charged interplay among the bandmates offers something which borders fusion and modern jazz. Paul Bley stretches out in elegant fashion on “Clever Conversations” while Ditmas and Richards employ a relentless rhythmic assault. Unadulterated intensity provided by Abercrombie’s signature and somewhat manic guitar stylizations along with the muscular rhythmic assault are prevalent factors on the barnburner titled, “Pulp”. On “Power Surge”, the heat continues while “Don’t Wake Up” is ethereal and dreamy thanks to Bley’s colorful and textural articulations on synthesizer along with his pensive or somewhat dirge-like acoustic piano work. A fitting finale to an unyielding and explosive affair!
Upon its original release, What If received critical praise and accolades and justifiably so as it becomes rather obvious from the onset that Ditmas was geared up for this date. What If offers a potpourri of modern/free-jazz, fusion and takes off into the stratosphere to some unknown destination, as the men only know one way, which is straight ahead with no looking back. * * * * ½
Bruce Ditmas; Drums: John Abercrombie; Guitars: Paul Bley; Piano & Synthesizers: Dominic Richards; Bass: Sam Rivers; Tenor & Soprano Saxophone.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.