Dave Burrell - Momentum


High Two 8

For a veteran with four decades of musical service, Dave Burrell’s discography remains incommensurately small. The High Two label has made strides (pun intended) to rectify the situation, starting in 2004 with Expansion, a trio date that teamed the pianist with the prodigious talents of William Parker and Andrew Cyrille. The public picked up on the album’s pervasive merits and it made more than a few year-end lists as a result. For the follow-up, Burrell makes some key personnel alterations that at first suggest possible steps backwards, but swiftly reveal themselves as sound choices.

Momentum seems a somewhat incongruous title for the set. Most of the disc’s tracks are decidedly dark in mood and slow to build. Only occasionally does Burrell break into a keyboard sprint, preferring instead to let the tunes spool out in stuttery meters that sometimes slow to a crawl. “Downfall” deploys with the inexorable tension of a tightly wound tourniquet, a repeating piano riff riding a series of Shaft-style syncopations from Guillermo E. Brown. “Broken Promise” is even more fractured and ominous, Brown’s brushes caressing skins as Burrell shapes sparse chords that sharpen into teeth-chattering clusters by the end. Here and on the menacing title track the influence of Blue Note-era Andrew Hill is prominent, Michael Formanek’s spidery pizzicato thrums echoing vintage Richard Davis in execution. The dour arco strains that open the dramatic “Fade to Black” let in little tonal light, complementing Burrell’s downcast patterns and Brown’s staccato press rolls before opening up into a loping march in the second half. “4:30 to Atlanta” pantomimes the piston-churning speed of an interstate express train with Brown showing off an energetic rock side and Burrell making artful use of space and silence.

Formanek is better equipped than his predecessor Parker when it comes to the linear swing side of Burrell’s playing as the creeping blues “Cool Reception” attests. He can create an explicit walking pace just as adeptly as a free-floating pulse. That inside/outside ambidextrousness coupled with a stout, string-snapping tone gives the trio just the sort of variable-purpose anchor it needs. Brown was the chief question mark for me prior to spinning the disc. I worried that he would bring the same sort of heavy-handedness present on certain of his forays with David S. Ware, but his varied stickplay and sensitive touch largely allayed my concerns. As with Expansion, there’s a unified feel to the set and the tracks progress from overcast gloom to almost an almost optimistic countenance on the closing new version of “Coup d’Etat”, itself perhaps a bit of musical palmistry presaging the recent electoral reversal. At just under three-quarters of an hour it’s also a welcome exercise in economy, one that makes repeat spins all the more remunerative.

~ Derek Taylor

Posted by derek on November 11, 2006 12:19 PM

I immensely enjoyed Full Blown Trio's expansion. And if you're saying this is better, I am gonna pick this up at the next Ars Nova show in Philly. I enjoyed Brown's work with Ware and Mike Ladd and have witnessed Formanek several times in his newfound centrality to the avant scene on the East Coast. Sounds like fun. Thanks for the timely review DT.

Posted by: matt at November 11, 2006 11:50 PM

There was another 2005 Burrell disc ' a solo one on Italian Splasc(H) - an excellent CD.

Posted by: DD at November 12, 2006 11:47 AM

I’m not sure I’d call this one better than Expansion, just different. Formanek’s a more versatile fit than Parker, but I’d rather hear Cyrille on the cans over Brown any day. Curious to hear other folks thoughts once they’ve had a chance to spin this & learn if my Hill comparisons are left-field errors.

Fwiw, Burrell also has a duo disc w/ drummer Billy Martin released earlier this year, Consequences on the Amulet label. Haven’t heard it or the Splasc(H), which looks great too.

Posted by: derek at November 12, 2006 3:20 PM

Anybody else get a shocking e-mail last week that "David Burrell" had died, only to find out it was Kenny Burrell's son, a manager/booking agent, not the pianist?

Posted by: pdf at November 13, 2006 11:19 AM

Yep, got that one. Sad news.

Posted by: derek at November 13, 2006 12:12 PM

Just got this one--a great disc, & I think better than Expansion. It strikes me that "Cool Reception" HAS to be an unstated tribute to Mal Waldron--a lot of Mal's signature licks & blues phrasing there.

Posted by: ND at November 25, 2006 9:53 AM

...Incidentally, what's with the production on this one? Not to sound like a CIMP guy, but I take it this one has had the volume pumped to the max--the balance of instruments is weird & if you look at the waves in a sound editor you can see they're all squared off.

Otherwise, great disc. Burrell was a truly nice guy when I did a little interview with him too. I gather much of the music here is a soundtrack for a Paul Robeson film.

Posted by: nd at February 22, 2007 3:08 PM

They went a bit overboard on the compression, I think, but maybe that was the only way to bring Guillermo into line.

Posted by: Dan Warburton at February 22, 2007 9:37 PM

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