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Friday, January 27, 2023

Andrew Raffo Dewar, John Hughes, and Chad Popple - Reflejos IV-VII (Waveform Alphabet, 2023)

By Sammy Stein 

Reflejos IV-VII is the new release from the trio of Andrew Raffo Dewar on soprano saxophone, John Hughes on double bass, and Chad Popple on drums, percussion, and vibraphone (Waveform Alphabet February 9th, 2023). It is a follow-up to their 2018 trio CD Reflejos which showcased Dewar’s first three compositions in the Reflejos series. The trio has performed together since 2005 but this is only the second recording of their work together. 

Dewar explains, “The Reflejos (reflections) series of pieces are based on mirror images and other reflection/refraction-based compositional forms that use a limited set of musical materials to reorder and rearrange rhythmically and melodically. The concepts are used as springboards for improvisation. 

Reflejos IV-V11 includes a new formal extension to the series, that of ‘trizas’ (shards) which in live performance are loops drawn from the longer works that can be cued up for performance by anyone in the trio in real-time, but on this album are presented as standalone miniatures that function as interludes between the other pieces. This malleable approach and decentralized organizing of compositional materials derive from my long-term engagement with Anthony Braxton’s music system, whose work I have been fortunate to perform as a member of his touring ensembles (primarily the 12+1tet) since 2005. Another conceptual touchstone for this series of pieces is Jimmy Giuffre’s 1960s trio with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow, whose simultaneously angular and melodic approach accompanied by complex asymmetrical counterpoint has fascinated me for decades.”

‘Reflejo IV’ is a gentle, atmospheric track with soprano sax musing around melodic themes at the outset before the bass and vibraphone develop a dialogue over which the sax improvises. In a multi-faceted track the trio create nimble, blithe riffs and ambient sections where bass and vibraphone explore concepts – especially in the middle section where beautifully worked contrasts are explored and developed before the soprano enriches the texture with its explorative parps and interludes – the trio expansively interacting for the rest of the track before the ending phrases which neatly bookend the track with a reflection of the opening.

‘Triza 111’ (trio) is a deft interlinking loop, while ‘Improvisation 11’ is a definitive conversation between the deep, guttural sound of the bass, ethereal percussion, and soprano sax, which drifts across the top in short, stuttering, carefully placed lines, the drums working up a storm, contrasting brilliantly with the sax.

‘Triza IV’ is trippy, fugue-like with the instruments entering one by one, the bass setting up a rhythmic pattern over which the others react and respond before ‘Improvisation 11’, which is a wonderful piece of music, with the trio imploding and expanding as they react to each other, forming crazy motifs, searing lines, and rolling percussive patterns. The heavy interaction between the drum and double bass is offset by the soaring, diverse soprano sax and the number holds a sense of the trio being a single entity.

‘Triza 111’ is a duet between sax and double bass, each offsetting and contrasting beautifully before ‘Triza V’ sees the vibraphones adding layers of reflective echoey sounds under a repeated bass and sax line.

‘Reflejo V’ is introduced by singular reflected notes from the trio, each repeating the rhythmic pattern set by the others and increasing the tempo until the sax diverges into a flurry of improvisation, which the others follow, the drums adding deep, rhythmic underlines and the bass sustaining the rhythm patterns. This track builds and builds until it becomes something of a beast, the gutsy riffles of the soprano sax being underpinned by full-throttle drums and bass, in what is an exemplar of improvisational exploration. Dewar’s playing becomes almost unhinged before it is reined in and the drums solo, leading into a final third, with bass warping in, followed by the percussion, sax, and finally the vibraphone. Glorious listening.

‘Reflejo V1’ is introduced by the vibraphone, with bass and saxophone joining, the saxophone gliding in to create a drifting melody. Atmospheric, ethereal, and other-worldly, this track offers a contrast in both feel and ambiance. There is one glorious section where the warbling sax counters the ethereal vibraphone effect and the bass enters, full-throated and powerful, deftly countering with its deep arco voice. It then sustains a note, on which the sax enters, creating a seamless change where the sax carries the momentum, developing and exploring the music from whence it picked it up. Clever and immensely well-worked improvisation. ‘Reflejo V11’ completes the album and is another beautifully worked trio dialogue and exploration with different sections, interludes, and some quite wonderful work from the sax, matched by the explorative nature of both the vibraphone and double bass.

This album is full of nuances, changes, and exploration and the improvisational quality of the trio is undeniable. The recording shows the dexterity of the underrated soprano saxophone. The echoey sound of the vibraphone is used to exquisite effect, while the deep, guttural impact of the double bass is also fully used, and the soprano sax creates contrast, effect, and impact. The percussive elements are from not just the drums but also the changing rhythms of the instruments. Impressive music.