Live review

Dan Weiss Trio (with Thomas Morgan and Jacob Sacks) at The Jazz Gallery NYC

Dan Weiss Trio
(The Jazz Gallery NYC. 10 December 2022. Opening night of “Dedication” launch tour. Live review by Dan Bergsagel)

Dan WeissTrio. L-R: Thomas Morgan, Jacob Sacks, Dan Weiss. Photo credit: Stephanie Ahn-Weiss

As a celebrated drummer and composer, Dan Weiss draws inspiration from sources that are technical and emotional, and occasionally some which could classify as both. His trio’s new album Dedication – a collection of pieces honouring some of these sources of inspiration with original Weiss compositions – launched at The Jazz Gallery this Saturday with the group presenting a handful of these dedications in a live setting.

As a composer, perhaps the opening piece of the set “For Andrei Tarkovsky”, an unsurprisingly rich cinematic soundscape for the soviet filmmaker, is testament to Weiss’ comfort and craft. A clear piano and the supporting double bass of Thomas Morgan prepare a backdrop for Weiss to present his percussive narrative: soft sweeping brushes and the push of closely-nestled bass drum beats. Through changes in tempo, volume and complexity the listening audience were left to build their own stories, of walking, running, searching and waiting – a musical scene evocatively laid out for each to interpret.

As a virtuoso behind the drum kit, “For Nancarrow” stands out. This piece is composed for Conlon Nancarrow, the mind behind a series of compositions for player piano from the second half of the twentieth century. Nancarrow’s pieces were deemed too challenging for mere mortals to accomplish, and instead he looked to playing automatons to achieve his musical ambitions. In keeping with Nancarrow, the execution of “For Nancarrow” requires an almost superhuman turn from Weiss, moving from an opening martial bouncing on the toms, into a timing, snapping rhythm seemingly achieved by a man with more than the visible limbs. In abrupt changes of pace and feel, the trio sounded more like modern electronica than a jazz trio, a sampled and honed piece sweeping and pulsing on stage.

“For Jacob”, dedicated to trio pianist Jacob Sacks (whom Weiss met and has been playing with for over 25 years) was an opportunity to dial the presence of the drums back a little. Here we were treated to short, variably-shaped phases patchworked together with the occasional drum break and sweeping bass. There was also a piece drawing on the classic pop ballads of Burt Bacharach but sounding like they had lovingly been pulled through a hedge backwards, and the joltingly forceful closing piece “For Tim Smith”, pull of post-punk energy and abrupt finishing. Whichever the piece, together the three musicians robustly combine the rotating responsibilities of a well-cued trio playing beautifully-balanced compositions with discordant, unexpected variations. And if in doubt, there is always the engrossing solo rhythmic brilliance of Weiss to fall back on.

As a collection of nine dedications, a pedant might say this album would more grammatically be called ‘Dedications’. But then again, the alternate reading of the name as a singular – Dedication – is also apt: Dan Weiss is dedicated to his craft. This gig launched a tour to promote the album, but also an opportunity for Weiss to run some drum clinics along the way. Weiss is also evidently dedicated to his family. For the opening show of the tour, us lucky audience members were joined by Weiss’ partner and daughter. And his dedication to them extended to asking his young daughter Vivienne for permission to play ‘her’ song (permission was politely denied) and instead playing the only piece of the evening that was not from the new album, “Stephanie” – a piece dedicated to his partner – from 2010 recording Timshel.

Like all good album launch shows, Weiss gave a taste of the album, but didn’t give away the whole thing. I left the Gallery wondering what “For Elvin” might have had to say of post-bop polyrhythms, or a musical interpretation of police racism and murder in “For George Floyd”. But this wonder, surely, is what the full recordings are for.

Dedication was released on 11 November 2022. Dan Weiss is currently on a week-long tour of the great lakes region, finishing with a residency at The Rex in Toronto.

LINK: Dan Weiss website

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