JACKSON/SERRIES/VANDERSTRAETENs DANDELION cd gets an extensive, wicked review by the hands of Todd McComb for his Jazz Thoughts blog. The album is officially out since Friday November 25th, 2022, and available here.

“Variations on the classic “jazz trio” continue to animate this space: Even as I continue to discuss more post-classical ensemble constitutions or other creative combinations, the pairing of horn & drums, along with some kind of string instrument, continues to figure a kind of pole — at least for these “jazz thoughts,” and likely for practical improvisational activity in general. As I’ve noted, the string instrument is the novelty from the American perspective, and that’s most often been bass or of course piano (more often in quartets…), but guitar makes for a sort of hybrid choice, i.e. a flexible articulation instrument with more chordal potential. And there’s plenty of variety possible from the other roles as well, i.e. a wide choice of horns, and then “drums” does have a sort of standard “jazz” meaning, but are at least as often buoyed or tilted in some personal direction, as regards not just expression per se, but kit…. I’ve also particularly enjoyed clarinet, since before this project, and even as saxophone is the more prototypical jazz reed, clarinet isn’t far off. So Tom Jackson has been one of the more compelling players for me over the past few years, including for his choice of colleagues. And I do want to feature his new album Dandelion, but I also feel compelled to address the trio format a little more generally: The obvious precedent around Jackson here is Nauportus (also featuring clarinet, guitar & percussion), first reviewed here in July 2019, and so in some ways, Dandelion seems like a reprise of that effort. But Dandelion also seems more taut & coherent overall, pace the (one-off?) festival context of Nauportus, each track here forging a little gem. Jackson’s wonderful sense of precision, both in rhythmic sections & in arrhythmic passages featuring held tones, brings distinct individuality to each track in this case, never really “in the weeds” as improv sometimes is…. There’re also the different players alongside Jackson, excellent “acoustic” (specifically) guitarists in both cases, Daniel Thompson on Nauportus & now Dirk Serries on Dandelion: I’ve been hearing Serries regularly of late, but of course he entered this space for me alongside Thompson in SETT (& has since recorded again with Thompson, alongside Martina Verhoeven on Today and all the tomorrows, as released earlier this year…), and while Serries can also seem like “the third” to this interaction, his sometimes-ringing guitar intervals & general sense of accent (& indeed reflection) provide a fascinating intervention — such that I’ve enjoyed listening to Dandelion by focusing on the guitar perspective. The latter’s drummer is then Kris Vanderstraeten, whom I hadn’t mentioned here, but who’s appeared on Serries’ A New Wave of Jazz label previously: He opens very much in colorist mode — pace the track titles — but also shows great fluidity in & out of more traditionally rhythmic interactions, a structuring flexibility (not so unlike Vid Drašler’s on Nauportus, as each percussionist is actually mentioned first by his label…) incorporating a broadly machinic animation into the individual tracks. (And I seem to enjoy the metallic chimes too.) There’s thus a sense of natural resonance to Dandelion, but almost as a frame, an arrhythmic-rhythmic turning inside out of elastic musical relations, as e.g. the first two tracks begin with held resonances — emerging from silence, one might say — transforming into more traditionally jazzy rhythms. (Other tracks might transform through smoothness in the middle….) In describing Nauportus, I’d also already closed by noting its “floating, timeless globalism” — & since then, I’ve figured the latter more in terms of “anthropology music,” i.e. generic inspirations of broad human activity, as relatively close to the divergent sounds of nature. But while Dandelion can be said to reference those sorts of callings, its intricate sense of sculpted control also seems to move beyond such a genre. Its “colors” come to suggest particular perspectives or situations, often sunny here (& so appropriately recorded at Sunny Side Inc., I suppose…), but e.g. becoming nocturnal for the long central track: There’s something seemingly self-contained about these little machinic-affective tracks, little gems I already said…, figured by specific (& usually bright) colors. The album seemed long at first, but now I’m usually sorry when it ends.

And the music on Dandelion does sparkle, but it’s not only the playing: I’ve started to note some high resolution sound formats here, and so this seems like a good time for a little more of a digression…. In fact, the 24bit sound on Dandelion is very present, with bigger-than-usual dynamics, and very crisp timbres. Compared to the “warmth” notion that people like to apply e.g. to vinyl, it can sound stark or harsh. That’s partly a matter of familiarity, but the sound does certainly carry in my apartment. And part of the reason I wanted to mention this is that there seems to be a lot of noise about high-def formats out there. On Dandelion, you can really hear the difference — assuming one has the decoder for it (& that’s another reason I’ve tended to steer clear of this topic, since I really have no idea how music sounds in “different” situations…) — but 24bit releases have actually become quite common on Bandcamp. They aren’t usually noted explicitly as such though: Indeed, per above, e.g. SETT First and Second was already a 24bit release (& maybe everything on A New World of Jazz is, I didn’t check…), but while it sounds good, it sounds more like a CD era recording (i.e. 16bit). Meaning that simply releasing a high-def format doesn’t automatically conjure a more vibrant recording from the sources, but more often lately, there’s striking sound to be found. That’s mostly in bit depth, though, as 24bit recordings are appearing at a variety of sampling rates, most often 48kHz it seems (& that’s what a typical smartphone will play), but some are at 44.1kHz (i.e. CD resolution), or even higher numbers such as 96kHz: The latter has been much less common outside of classical in my experience, but e.g. Braxton’s ZIM set was released at that resolution — & so put out on blu-ray as its physical format. These higher resolution formats have mostly been appearing silently in the improvised space online though, i.e. aren’t hyped (although the great sound from e.g. Braxton probably should be…!), with few labels providing consumers a choice of resolution (a situation now ubiquitous in the mainstream “classical” download market). But Zurich’s Intakt Records is one that does provide such an explicit choice, including different price points, and has been doing it for a while now. (Scan their Bandcamp site, and you’ll see a variety of resolutions offered, across different albums, not only a single “high def….”) Anyway, hopefully that little orientation has some value. The sound quality on Dandelion really is better than any CD recording, though — pace the unfamiliarity, which might figure “better” differently for different listeners (even as the level of sonic detail is certainly higher). Based on classical responses, some people really don’t appreciate e.g. the increased dynamic range possible in 24bit…. (Whereas higher sampling rates lend a “lushness” to timbres, and I don’t know that anyone has complained about that, but it does make the sound files much larger….)” Todd McComb’s Jazz Thoughts