NYC Jazz Record “Nerve Dance” review

March 2017

Nerve Dance presents alto saxophonist Michaël Attias’ latest group, a quartet with frequent co-workers John Hébert (bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums) along with a newcomer, Cuban-born pianist Aruán Ortiz. It’s a remarkably tight-knit band. In part, that’s based on certain common values and sources. One is Andrew Hill: Hébert and Waits worked with the pianist together and separately and he is clearly an influence on Ortiz as pianist and Attias the composer, both of whom are fond of complex rhythmic and harmonic structures, fusing patterns and bits into powerful dynamic wholes. Another shared influence is Ornette Coleman: Ortiz has recorded his compositions and Attias’ lines have a variety that suggests Coleman, from short, wispy sotto voce phrases to cascading, singing figures alive with shifting inflections.

In a sense, it’s very much a composer’s record. Attias wrote 9 of the 11 tracks, Hébert the other two; some tracks are interrelated, handling the same materials in different ways. The ethereal and brief “Boca de Luna”, etched by Attias alone on alto and minimalist supporting piano, introduces the developed version of the materials, “Moonmouth”. The two parts of “Nerve & Limbo”—one slowed down to a dirge-like pace, the other an edgy rhythmic complex driven by Ortiz and worthy of Hill—later become the basis of “Le Pèse-Nerfs” and “Ombilique”. “Dream in a Mirror”, a tribute to Coleman, is a minor key recasting of his “The Clergyman’s Dream”. Hébert’s “Rodger Lodge” has a distinctly relaxed lyricism of its own.

Complexity and composition, however, don’t operate in a vacuum. They focus and feed the realization of vital music through the dynamic of group improvisation. The pieces reflect intense and elusive psychological states and develop those moods through a simultaneous adherence to demanding patterns and a spirit of improvised dialogue. Every minute is alive, whether a solo spot for Waits or Hébert or the ensemble in full flight.

– Stuart Broomer