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Thursday, March 21, 2024

Dell, Lillinger, Westergaard (DLW) - Beats II (Plaist, 2023)

I've waited too long on this one. I've been determined to review it for months now, and there have been a number of false starts and public declarations (to whomever could hear me) that Beats II would be my next review. So what went wrong? It's not the album, that's for sure ... so, if there is any reason that could shift the blame from myself, it would be that it's hard to tell where to begin with it. DLW creates music that can be hard to pin down. It has a way of unsettling your equilibrium, and on first approach it can be quite formidable.

The trio, vibraphonist Christopher Dell, drummer Christian Lillinger, and bassist Jonas Westergaard have been working together for several years, developing a musical 'grammar' that has been documented in several trio releases over the years, starting with Grammar (gligg, 2013), Grammar II (PLAIST, 2019), Beats (PlAIST, 2021) and now Beats II.

Some of the press around Beats II spoke of "multiperspectivity" and "multidimensionality," which is likely not a bad way to capture in words the fractional beats and cut-up nature of the recording, but it is a bit foreboding. The music itself, however, is not. It was recorded as one long improvised piece then processed/reprocessed in such a way that individual tracks became sharp fun-house mirror reflections of each other. Hard cuts between the songs suggest beginnings and ends, but they also could be middles and related pieces that don't necessarily follow in a recognizable pattern, but as suggested by the names of the pieces, represent (or are represented by) colors.

Thus, I think there is where, possibly, I got hung-up. The colors, the cut-ups, the short tracks that both work with and against each other, and my wobbly balance after listening. However, if one lets go and allows Lillinger's staccato hits and Xacto-knife slices of the beat to simply propel Westergaard's commanding bass lines and Dell's highly syncopated loop-like melodic statements, it is quite easy to slide into the musical world that they have been fastidiously building over the years. The opening 'red' lasts all of 16 seconds, but in its short brutal life, it establishes that what you are hearing will require your full attention. In the follow up, 'yellow' (a generous two and a half minutes) finds Dell playing a looping set of chords over slightly shifting time-frames and on 'wine' (a color in the Crayola Crayon 64-pack, right?) it's Westergaard who embodies the fluctuating pulse. Throughout the 20 short tracks, nothing is solid, but everything is hard and sharp. The music is utterly compelling, and at some point, the shards of fun house mirrors become more like a kaleidoscope of fascinating sound.

Beats II ... once you find your way in, you'll start hearing shapes and tasting colors anew.


Flake said...

This record slaps, fr.