Way back in 1998, the first recording I wrote about was a recording whose crux was recognizable as being a total concept within itself. This is true of EXPANSION as well. The very title of the recording signifies the key to understanding not only how Dave Burrell views himself in his music-making pursuits but also the way in which to perceive EXPANSION's development within all 40 minutes 33 seconds of memorable time.
Burrell claims that this is his greatest recorded work. This is not simply a series of tracks of different tunes. Rather the recording is a story about a cycle in forward motion. Within the cycle are clear-cut delineations of the stepping stones that begin the journey that return to the beginning of the cycle. The steps mark sonic miles of differentiation within the context of disturbance of sense, a scramble to regain a place of peace in order to attain a balance whence the experiential cycle can resume, infiltrated with that much more extraordinary a set of nerve-endings. Somewhat an auto-biographical statement for Burrell, I would venture to guess.
It is not difficult to hear the musical language that elucidates what I have essentially described as a metaphor. The trio’s gestures pervade the recording with endless subtleties. Burrell’s fingering is light when it needs to be and heavy when the tempos are tough. His playing is elegant and thorough without missing the notes that the listener could not even guess would be there. Parker’s string playing varies without parallel, both to provide the bassline and explode the digital surface. Cyrille endows the whole with more than appropriate accentuation and lead.
This is how the story is told. A solid chordal pianistic output with bass and light cymbal background progresses through thematic content into a zone where occurs a gradual evolution held together with unstoppable rhythmic content. The solidity breaks down with several flourishing runs across the keyboard into an elegant pounding and descending dissonance. The dissonance carries over into seemingly nonrhythmic episodes that eventually introduce a Burrell/Parker duo. Parker takes his bow stridently across the strings in the upper register of the bass; Burrell counteracts, grounding the bass’s acerbic vibratos and bent pitches with calming defined chords and tunes trickled lightly on the high pitched piano keys.
In what is measurably the exact middle of the recording is Burrell at the most tender of moments in his style of playing. The open and shut method of stride piano. In between the open and shut spreading emanates Irving Berlin’s THEY SAY IT'S WONDERFUL (it = love, you know). The loving drives the flow of music in the manner of his gentle, lithe fingering. The left hand counting out the rhythm. And the coda replete with repeated trills. This tune is the fulcrum for finding a balance within the whole of the composition, the whole idea.
The last half of the recording makes a turn. The snap of the snare ushers the piano & bass into a gait with which all of the trio moves in an unrelenting time-keeping methodology. This opens the view to a reality directed to the misty atmosphere surrounding the peace which follows. Oh, to be in the mind when the piano and kora unwind the relief of quiet breathing and the unique blend of internal and external worlds.
The return to a variation on the original theme is easy now. Spry, clear, straight ahead with a relaxed curvature of musical line.
It is my belief that the greatest jazz musicians I have known put their valiant efforts into telling their own musical story in one place. One recording of perhaps many tracks, but the freedom therein allows for the detailed explication of the stages of their development in the most expressionistic way that is know to them. They may do this in as many recordings as they can, but they nevertheless do it. And it becomes a turning point from an early stage of music-making to the next, the huge turnover, that allows the stages to be succinctly distinguishable.
Paying attention to this idea is in itself a means to grow. Listen... Hear the change?