Dave Burrell manages brilliantly to convey his concept of tempo on his new release, Momentum, on High Two. It takes about two seconds to realize that what is going on here is how well his partners can keep up with Burrell’s chart, not in terms of speed, but in terms of change. Michael Formanek on bass and Guillermo E. Brown on drums fall beautifully into place.
Delicate is not a word I would use to describe Burrell’s music. Nor is the music heavy. It is powerfully melancholic yet charged with commitment and classical gestures of jazz. Burrell’s hands are the timekeepers and the melody makers. The bass and the drums ornament and emphasize the backbone that Burrell provides. When Burrell takes off into a tune, Formanek and Brown can lift up the tune to support it. Formanek’s pizzicato is dry and deep and Brown’s drums stay light and spry. The two musicians move up and down, forward and back and in and out of the ever changing mainline sound waves.
Burrell’s songs settle into places that are comfortable. There is very little distortion as to where he wants to go. The mystery of the unfolding is nothing less than arresting. He can be playing completely in synch with the bass and drums, in total dissonant counterpoint to them, at half the count or offering a call to elicit a response.
Composition seems to supersede improvisation in the recording. The compositions are replete with Burrell’s incredible touch. If you have ever seen Burrell perform, you know that his fingers are incredibly long, lithe and handle transitions with ease. Clicked out tunes on the high end of the keyboard can move quickly without trial into chordal structures in the bass keys. His hands alter expected roles of positioning on the keyboard.
The beginning and end to any single song are crystal clear. They define the choice of limits for the steadfast focus of a piano master. The memory of how Burrell speaks through his instrument is indelible. The pleasurable memory of Momentum is inescapable.