Zen Fish (1999)
While there is plenty of time for solos, which are uniformly outstanding, what makes this recording so striking is the writing. The horns weave in and out, while the piano, bass, and drums play nearly equal roles. The horns appear in constant flux, with the wild, tailgating 'bone of Evans the anchor. One of the few free-style bone players taking his cue from deep in the heart of Dixie, Evans growls, trills, and roars, recalling Roswell Rudd's finest moments with Carla Bley. The arranged rigs implode, leading to appealing mutations. Even the collective improvisations feel rooted, in part because of the constant melodic references. Gary Curson is dynamite on alto saxophone, where he spins a gorgeous melody, and stretches it, as he does over Tippett's tremulous trills on "Quelle Vie". Curson sows his oats on piece after piece, climbing all over his sax. He locks horns with Jim Dvorak's blustery trumpet and Evans' gutsy trombone to create music of fiery intensity. Bellatalla's muscular bass and Le Baigue's powerful drums solidly underpin the interlocking clusters of the horns, while Tippett interjects effortlessly. The results are fully realized as melody intersects cacophony, and the center holds. Clearly a winner, Zen Fish successfully navigates the fine line between collective improvisation and harmonic subtlety. Highly recommended—Cadence
Dreamtime are back with a fresh set of brilliant music that evokes the glory years of the late 60s and 70s British Jazz. To wit Nick's opening composition, "Trunk Call", boasts an infectious metody that recalls his compositions for the Keith Tippett Group's "Dedicated to You…" album. A motif so sublime in simplicity that it's a wonder it lay hidden from creative minds until now. Still, all members contribute inspired writing; trumpeter Jim Dvorak stomps out the oddly metered and telling titled "Pygmy Strut", bassist Roberto Betlatalla fries off-kilter bop with "Call the Devil", saxophonist Gary Curson pens the pungent title tune (fro-zen geddit?), drummer Jim Le Baigue offers the openly ethereal on "Little Cinema" and pianist Keith Tippett turns in a slow Blues with "Billy Goes to Town". Throughout the fifty-five minute set Tippett's characteristic darts, flurries and cascadences are injected with great effect. Such stylish individuatism coalesces seamlessly through a near telepathic crosstalk of inspired playing. Together these seasoned improvisers probe, prod, embrace and envelope each others musicality thus invigorating their tunes with warm, melodic collective improvisations that are never mechanical in delivery nor static in scope. In whole the music is more than the sum of its working parts. One couldn't dream of more from the contemporary jazz on the cusp of the Millennium. Highly recommended to the converted and the uninitiated alike—Improjazz
A marvellous album featuring some major figures in British jazz and improv, whose work is too often taken for granted. That's a confession too, because I when I got Zen Fish I didn't anticipate anything as good as this.
Zen Fish has ballads, stomps and blues, and any freeblowing is bookended with themes. It's the variety, inventivenesss and emotional power of the excellent compositions and arrangements that really raise the superlatives. The sound is bigger than you'd expect from a sextet. Great compositions and fine soloists make this album of the year material—The Wire
Dreamtime have at last been able to prove that they can reproduce in the studio the visceral excitement generated by their live performances.
Their material ranges from relatively straightforward blues' to fierce collective scrambles hovering on the edge of freedom, and from woozily majestic anthems based on traditional music to strident, wailing, originals.
It is their overall approach, however – a passionate commitment to informal yet virtuosic spontaneous interaction all too rare in much contemporary wine-bar-friendly jazz – coupled with their easy familiarity with post-bop developments in the music that makes this long overdue album such an unalloyed joy—The Times
It's an ebullient, joyful LP, filled with collective improvisation, and big thematic compositions.
If that makes it sound like chaotic free improv, then it's not – Zen Fish is tuneful, direct and highly accessible, Repeated bass-lines and piano figures frame some bold solos. Bandleader Nick Evans' slurring, gutbucket trombone style could come straight out of a New Orleans marching band, while trumpeter Jim Dvorak swings from smudgy Ellingtonian melody to atonality and back again.
For a small ensemble, they build up quite a racket. And, if it sounds like I'm getting madly evangelical about this line-up, then I probably am—Time Out
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