Dennis Rea Tanabata Ensemble - Black River Transect

Dennis Rea is a guitarist and musical free spirit who resides on the north western edge of the USA up there in Seattle where he is a well known presence in that far-flung city's left field music scene.

In the past I have ventured deep into the densely populated hinterland of Dennis' musical legacy, a never less than interesting journey that has spotlighted some real musical gems, the common thread being a quest for new and innovative ways of expression.

The latest chapter is Black River Transect, an intriguing album of stark contrasts, recorded live in Seattle's Chapel Performance Space on two different dates in 2013, by Dennis' Tanabata Ensemble.

The opening four tracks where recorded on 25th February of that year, and the album opens with the lovely and romantic piece ASJ (septet), named for Dennis' life partner Anne Smith Joiner. The gentle and cosseting opening tune is in full contrast to the guided improvisation of the title track that follows, which opens with the unsettling airs of a didjeridoo, accompanied by odd sounds with a likeness to a barking wild dog, and later something akin to a distressed elephant, and of course Dennis' steely sharp guitar, sustained on scything notes that gradually up the ante to arrive at a rhythmic cacophony deep in the jungle. A transect is "a straight line or narrow section through an object..." and the schism between ASJ (septet) and Black River Transect illustrate that perfectly.

The line is re-crossed for the lilting but edgy Swaylone's Island, Dennis' keening guitar melody leading the ensemble in a slow waltz across glowing embers. We return to improvisation for Harmoniker, a guided piece during which "each improviser played only those scale degrees that occurred within the spelling of their name; e.g., Beth Fleenor = B, E, F." Good job the band were not of Polish origin, eh? Joking aside this is an intriguing piece that is as different from the coruscating improv of title track as can be, slowly revealing a sense in the madness, before becoming loud and righteous in its final section.

The final track was recorded later in 2013, on 6th July, and features Dennis' colleague in the marvellous furious-prog instrumental band Moraine, James DeJoie, who arranges a "trombone choir" in an extended and beautiful "slight return" to the theme of the opening track. 

Unfortunately I cannot find any samples to link to, so this is just like one of those reviews from the pre-internet daze...you'll just have to take my word for it!

Bookending an album of typically single-minded experimentation merged with composition, Dennis Rea has made a musical sandwich with a highly unusual filling that is neither "jazz" nor "avant" nor indeed any convenient post-hole, but stands on its own, just like the rest of his singularly individualistic canon. Most definitely one for the adventurous!

Tracklist:
1. ASJ (septet)
2. Black River Transect (for Princess Angeline)*
3. Swaylone’s Island
4. Harmoniker 
5. ASJ (trombone choir) 

Line up:
Tracks 1-4:
Dennis Rea – guitar
Stuart Dempster – trombone, didgeridu
James DeJoie – bass clarinet
Beth Fleenor – clarinet
Kate Olson – soprano saxophone
John Seman – double bass
Tom Zgonc – drums

Track 5:
Dennis Rea – guitar
Kate Olson – soprano saxophone
John Seman – double bass
Paul Kikuchi – drums
Trombone choir: Sara Mayo (alto trombone); Stuart Dempster, Moc Escobedo, Masa Ohtake, Naomi Siegel (tenor trombones); Steve Harreld, Jen Hinkle, Chad Kirby, Greg Powers (bass trombones); Benn Hansson (contrabass trombone)

Links & Info:

I have scribbled various articles about the works of Dennis Rea in the past, type his name in the search box at the top of the page, and take your pick! Essentially though, you should at least have a gander at his vast discography, my overview of which can be found HERE.


* From Dennis' notes: 

The title invokes the vanished Black River that once drained Lake Washington from its southern end into Elliott Bay in the Salish Sea, before the excavation of the Ship Canal in north Seattle lowered the level of the lake and left this once-vital transportation corridor and its Native villages nothing but a memory. The track’s dedicatee, “Princess Angeline” (Kikisoblu), was the daughter of Chief Sealth; she spent much of her life in a hovel on the tide flats where, like her dispossessed people in general, she was subjected to callous indignities by the fast-growing city’s residents.

**Adendum 4th October 2016
Dennis has informed me that snippets of the tracks from the album can be listened to on Amazon, iTunes, etc.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the review. As the owner/recordist at Scoobietracks.com I'm very proud of this work. FYI there is a stream available on the product page for ASJ with Trombone Choir.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading and for the stream info.

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