May 28, 2017
Alto saxophonist and composer Michaël Attias has released a series of albums in the past few years showing a deeply personal and creative voice, with bands including Renku (his trio with John Hébert and Satoshi Takeishi) and Spun Tree (with Ralph Alessi, Matt Mitchell, Sean Conly and Tom Rainey). Nerve Dance is the first release from his new quartet—featuring heavyweights Aruán Ortiz(piano), John Hébert (double bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums)—and might just be my favourite yet of Attias’ projects.
Several of the compositions on the album share a similar approach—built up from ostinatos in the bass or the piano’s bottom end, or structured using long rhythmic patterns shared out among the musicians. With nine original pieces from Attias and two contributed by Hébert, there is a definite overall vibe to the music. Written melodies are as likely to be heard from the piano, bass and drums as the sax. However, while some ostinato-led music can tend towards a non-interactive layering, this group always approach the music with freedom and inventiveness. The time is elastic, with improvisations skittering around the patterns rather than being tied down by them. Compositionally the whole album made me think of the great Andrew Hill, especially his last album Timelines. The combination of polyrhythmic complexity, freedom and mystery seems to come from a similar place.
Attias’ own playing, like the compositions, draws heavily both on jazz history and abstraction. He has written in the past about his love of Jimmy Lyons, and shares with that genius of the alto saxophone a capacity to abstract a personal vocabulary out of an intimate knowledge of Charlie Parker. He also has a way of constantly using timbre and attack to shape every phrase, something of a lost art.
Aruán Ortiz was the least familiar to me of the musicians on this album, but I will definitely be investigating further. Cuban-born, he has worked with such magicians of the music as Andrew Cyrille, Henry Grimes and Oliver Lake. A pianist out of the Monk/Herbie Nichols/Andrew Hill school, he has a strongly resonant, dark sound and a mysterious, patient approach to developing his improvisations.
You couldn’t hope for a better rhythm section pairing than this for exploring music that is simultaneously innovative and rooted in tradition. Hébert and Waits share the ability always to be deeply swinging while taking risks and playing with complete abandon. They worked together with Andrew Hill (among many other collaborations), and this sort of material is perfectly suited to their approach.
All in all, a magical, emotionally honest and beautiful album from one of the most interesting musicians working today.
– Olie Brice