Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Dennis Rea, Black River Transect

Dennis Rea has distinguished himself as a guitarist, composer and bandleader of great talent and originality. I've covered a number of his CDs on this page in the past (type his name in the search box above for those) and they are consistently worthwhile and filled with surprises.

The new one is every bit as good as what I expect from Dennis, but perhaps even more so--one of his very best. It is his Tanabata Ensemble live in concert with a set entitled Black River Transect (Scooby Tracks). The first four pieces feature Dennis Rea on guitar, Stuart Dempster on trombone and didgeridu, James DeJoie on bass clarinet,  Beth Fleenor on clarinet, Kate Olson on soprano saxophone, John Seman on double bass, and Tom Zgonc on drums. It is great to hear Seattle avant trombone icon Stuart Dempster in this band. He sounds ever his lively self. The rest of the band is excellent as well, everyone attuned to the music, comfortable with both free and structured duties as needed.

The opener is "ASI," dedicated to Dennis' long-time partner Anne Smith Joiner. It has an unforgettable thematic quality and the septet makes of it the worthy rhapsodic stunner that it truly is. "Black River Transect" and "Harmoniker" are "guided improvisations," free but directed explorations of musical space with some excellent guitar work by Rea, certainly, and nicely together collective surges. "Swaylone's Island" is another stunning Rea composition, with a bit of classical-modern openness and some wonderfully out post-fusion guitar and ensemble work.

Following these formidably worthwhile numbers is a return to "ASI," this time scored by James DeJoie for a ten-member trombone choir and a slightly scaled-down accompanying ensemble with Dennis joined by the extraordinary, ambient Seattle drummer Paul Kikuchi. It is an even more haunting version of the piece, if that is possible, and it sends us off nicely, wanting more.

The originality and uniqueness of Rea's guitar, his writing, the ensemble are on display in ways that are very heartening. Everybody is locked in here. The results are stunning. It isn't rock, though a little of the fusion element remains and there is some unusual rock guitar outness to be heard in Dennis's solo time. It is compositional and freely improvisational in ways not at all typical, with a little of the finesse of modern classical, a lyrical sort of bent, and a result like no other.

It may not be the sort of album that is going to overthrow the order of things, but it is very wonderful, a tribute to Dennis's carefully considered direction, one that wears very nicely with repeated listens, seems unforced and natural, yet is strikingly different for all that.

Might I suggest you check this one out? It is some of the most interesting music I've yet to hear this year. It shows you that Dennis Rea keeps moving forward, striking his way through to new zones of possibility. The results are really something to hear!


  1. Great review Grego..looking forward to hearing it

  2. Thanks, Dom! Yes, this one is a definite goodie. I am sure you'll dig it. Thanks for posting a shout-out!