Reviews - WHIT DICKEY Trio ..Transonic (AUM005)

#3 CADENCE Readers Poll Top Records of 1998


Whit Dickey has four arms. This is a little known fact, and I can't prove it, but listening to the beginning of the first track of this album is all the proof you need. Dickey simultaneously assualts bass drum, toms and snare drum, all the while keeping a light-speed ride pattern pinging away. This is only the first thirty seconds! What follows is a masterpiece of an album.

The compositions are all by Dickey, with the exception of "Second Skin" and "Kinesis", which were composed by the trio collectively. The liner notes state that many of the compositions were inspired by the Thelonious Monk tunes "Off Minor" and "Criss Cross" (which may well be my personal favorite Monk tune). This influence is very obvious on many of the compositions included here, but not to the point of copycat-ism. They are truly original works, inspired by the mind of a great genius whose music, in today's avant/free scene, may well be the most relevant it's ever been.

Whit's playing continues to be fantastic throughout, showing his tastefulness and panache--his ability to find just the right time to come down or lay out completely, or to explode in a blistering attack of drums and cymbals. This group excels at collective improvisational sections without getting in each others way. A prime example of this is "Second Skin", where at one point Whit affects just the right mood as he fades out behind Brown with his ride cymbal that, when he comes back in, you'd swear it was another person. It just works SO well.

Chris Lightcap does some very interesting work throughout the album as well. His playing is alternately melodic and atonal, and he does beautiful work whether bowing or plucking. Whether intentionally or not, the timbres of the drums and bass on parts of this album (particularly, the beginning of "Planet One" and during "Tableau") blend together so beautifully that it takes careful listening to tell who is playing what. "Tableau" opens with haunting flute work from Brown, behind which the harmonics played by Lightcap meld seamlessly with Dickey's tom rolls played with mallets. The effect is very well done.

Speaking of Rob Brown, those of you familiar with his work on any number of other recordings he has done in the past decade will not be surprised to hear that he is in top form on this album as well. He has an excellent ability to sound perfectly melodic on his horn, even while playing way "outside the lines". He utilizes the entire range of the instrument, though seeming to favor the higher altissimo registers. His sound encompasses both a fantastic tone usually associated with the alto saxophone, as well as more adventurous non-conservatory sounds and effects. Brown is also an accomplished flautist, and though it is obviously a secondary instrument to him, he performs some excellent flute work on the more subdued "Tableau".

This recording stacks up to be a truly great recording of free jazz compositions. The members of the trio are obviously well aware of the stylistic tendencies of each other and perform accordingly with fantastic solo and ensemble playing throughout.
- Bryan Cook

NEW YORK PRESS June 3-9, 1998
Transonic, meanwhile, is from start to finish a free-jazz masterpiece. Drawing on many of the same influences as Other Dimensions, the trio is no less expansive when dealing with these precedents. Take the title track: Beginning with a circular motif that resembles Archie Shepp's "Hambone (Part One)," it explodes into the kind of swarming interplay that has marked all the greatest jazz triumphs of the past 40 years, from Ornette to Ayler to the David S. Ware quartet (Dickey was formerly the drummer) Bass player Chris Lightcap pulls his strings so that they make a great resounding thud. LIghtcap is one of the few jazz bassists who can muster the percussive majesty of the great Henry Grimes. And Dickey may be the best drummer going, the true heir to Tony Williams and Elvin Jones; he solos with the force of a herd of wild buffalo and sounds in places like three drummers playing at once.

David S. Ware has just been signed to Columbia, which will hopefully open the door for fellow travelers like Dickey, Parker, Charles Gayle, etc. They're proof that the fire lit by bebop, which burned steadily through Mingus and Coltrane and free jazz and Miles and the Art Ensemble and funk and no wave, never truly went out. But comparisons to legends and movements are largely irrelevant-let's just say the Transonic is coursing along the same bloodline with all the vital signs intact. -Joe S. Harrington

From the first strains of this powerhouse recording, it is clear that it is a drummer-led date. It has nothing to do with the mix, which cleanly balances the three voices, nor is it because the drums monopolize the spotlight. Instead, there is a sense that this music grows from the rhythms up. This music is built around a free-flowing open pulse, extended through simple melodic kernels and light, dancing phrasing. Brown, Lightcap, and Dickey are in perfect synch throughout. Dickey is a lithe, musical, drummer who propels the music by insinuating his free rhythms and cascading tuned percussive lines into the midst of the trio. His open playing balances a forceful intensity with a sensitive feel for dynamics, never overpowerng the other two. Lightcap is a young bass player who is relatively new on the scene. He dances over the full range of the bass, whether picking darting lines that play off Dickey's open spaces or laying down fat resounding arco below chattering toms. Brown's fiery playing is a welcome addition to any date. Here, he twists and turns the simple themes with an explosive force, weaving them into the propulsive collective energy. His crying alto lines unfold with vigorous thoughtfulness, playing an elemental role in shaping the collective flow of the music. On "Tableau," his flute playing wafts over the hushed shadings of Dickey's cymbals and light, bouncing plucked bassm creating a focused meditative freedom. This is a compelling debut for Dickey as a leader that masterfully balances roiling energy and free interplay with taut collective empathy. -Michael Rosenstein

MOD MAGAZINE issue No. 5
Whit Dickey left behind his work with David S. Ware, Matthew Shipp, and Joe Morris to strike out into the unkown. Armed with Thelonious Monk's "Off Minor" and Criss Cross," the newly inspired drummer formed a trio. Not just a trio as in a formulaic collection of three, but something adding to more than the sum of its parts. Rob Brown (on alto sax and flute) known also for work with Matthew Shipp; Chris Lightcap (of a Joe Morris Quartet) have done more than encircle Whit Dickey's kit with component instrumentation. They broke open his kit and transported his jazz IQ onto the lecture tour circuit. Drum lines reminiscient, yet ground breaking, define and allude to the concrete history of jazz, while knocking at the door of "change." Each tune is abstractly expressionistic, while being linear enough to be impressionistic. These are darks and lights, shades and tints. These are the ideas that three men could only invent at the crossing-points of their own unique histories and sensibilities. The Whit Dickey Trio is defined by impulse. Meeting the needs of those feelings to stretch forward, The Trio move the head beyond linear thought. Transportation, transformation, Transonic.
-Keith York

High-energy percussive skirmishes running the entire length of each piece signal the reemergence of one of free jazz's premier drummers, Whit Dickey. Just to give you an idea of how talented and gifted this man is behind the trapset, think of how many rock bands (besides Don Caballero!) where the drummer writes all the songs. Transonic's eight pieces are not written so much as they are sketches and frames of melody and rhythm. Dickey composed the opening melodies for all but two pieces, then left saxophonist Rob Brown to eloquently state and elaborate on the passages. Brown's mid-to-high register cheek-flexing and depth of touch highlight this fiery record. Dickey's stick scuffling, Brown's short riffs, and the scattershot plucking of bassist Chris Lightcap seem to ride at three different altitudes, providing ample room for exploration and for the members to be heard. Transonic's frenetic, fairly straightforward passages exemplify the Trio's lucid state and Dickey's implicit interest in lighting the room on fire with sound. -Steve Brydges