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Whit Dickey’s Trio Ahxoloxha - Prophet Moon

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Artist: Whit Dickey’s Trio Ahxoloxha

Album: Prophet Moon

Label: Riti

Review date: Mar. 27, 2003

Of Palindromes and Power Trios...

Back in the early ’90s, Whit Dickey was riding an artistic high. A coveted (at least in free jazz circles) slot behind the drum kit in the then up-and-coming David S. Ware Quartet and regular gigs with Matthew Shipp and Joe Morris seemed to point to a bright future for the drummer. But as the adage goes, our worst critic resides in each of us and Dickey trumped his success card with a decision to drop off the scene and further sharpen his craft. Fellow percussionist Susie Ibarra slipped effortlessly into his vacated spot with Ware, and Dickey was gone for the space of several years. Since then he’s resurfaced on several occasions, most notably to wax two albums as a leader – Tranesonic on AUM Fidelity and Big Top for Wobbly Rail – as well as rekindle past associations with Morris and Shipp.

Dickey’s latest release reunites a trio that has at one time or another been under the helm of each of its three members, and their palindromic name reflects the guiding spirit of symmetry. The ensemble’s debut Youniverse from 1992 was ostensibly under the leadership of Morris and is also available on his Riti imprint. Prophet Moon picks up where that one left off and shows in spades what a decade’s worth of development can do. Dickey scripts each of the disc’s five compositions, but each track is outfitted more as an excuse for on-the-fly improvisation rather than rote allegiance to charts. Recorded live at the venerable New York club Roulette, the clarity of sound and clean delineation of instruments on the disc does nothing to compromise the concert intensity kicked up from the stage. Dickey’s multifarious sticks parse out fractured rhythms to each of the four points of the compass and between. A master of texture and volume, his frothing swells and troughs can quickly solidify with pulverizing propulsive potency. On the opening and instructive “The Word From the Street”, the three players engage in an oblique improvisatory caucus around a swaying harmonic center. Morris’ launches salvo after salvo of his signature single note clusters and Brown blows in a vernacular of stuttering vibrato-flecked phrases. Nearing the end, Dickey lightens his touch and opens things up with sporadically charged cymbal work. Brown tempers his earlier urgency into a near lyricism that contrasts with Morris’ restless worrying of the same troupe of tiny-knotted notes.

Brown attacks the impetus of the sprawling title track solo, sliding through the upper registers of his alto on a ladder of slippery legato lines. Dickey and Morris build and demolish beneath – the latter man setting up a gap-toothed counterpoint to the saxophonist’s mentholated improvisations, while the former colors the action with gushing fills. Turn about is fair play and soon Morris takes a stab at loquacity, scrolling out a series of nimble fret-runs against Dickey’s dour toms and bristling snare. This all segues into a tour de force for the drummer who erects a slowly evolving solo saturated in rhythmic energy, easily a high point of the disc, matched by another solitary coda that presages the track’s closing minutes where Brown skids headlong into interlude of squealing overtones. “Riptide,” passes muster as the album’s other marathon workout. A typically talkative Brown sets things in motion against the initially plaintive chording from Morris, which soon shifts gears into rapid-fire sheets of strafing notes. Dickey moves from light to shade with blindingly busy sticks, assisting his partners in some detailed give and take and surprisingly shunning the spotlight. Closing shop with the concise “Telling Moment” the trio comes full circle and caps things off with an abiding feeling that more is in store. Their decade-long hiatus between recordings stands as fact, but like time in a bottle, these three haven’t missed a beat during the interim and have if anything matured into an even more formidable ensemble force. Hopefully Dickey’s here to stay with confidence intact and will recognize that his chops are better served on the band stand and recording studio than in the wood shed.

By Derek Taylor

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