between shadow and space

Between Shadow and Space, by the Michael Dessen Trio. Clean Feed Records, 2008.

Michael Dessen, trombone/computer
Christopher Tordini, bass
Tyshawn Sorey, drums

Clean Feed Records, 2008

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About the Music

I first formed a trio with this instrumentation in 2005. I wanted an ensemble that could weave among the riches of cyclic, polyrhythmic flow, but take equal delight in hue, grain, and abstraction. Tyshawn and Chris are extraordinary musicians who play with great precision and nuance, and are fluent with many kinds of compositional material, from complex temporal structures and contrapuntal lines to graphic scores and electronic collage. For me, composing for and with this trio is partly about bringing those kinds of diverse models into dialogue.

Equally important is that they listen and think compositionally, prying open whatever I bring to reveal new possibilities. Like most musicians, I compose partly to amplify something ineffable inside, and compositional choices I make alone (even if we’re never really alone) are part of my tool kit. But the past half century has produced a staggering array of improvisational musics that revel deeply in another aspect of the craft: using compositional structures not only as shorthand to bring certain sounds to life, but also to spark, jostle and nourish intensely collaborative acts of imagination. My music draws energy from overlapping musical communities and histories where nothing is more urgent – or seriously playful – than that collective journey.

Track notes

The phrase “Between Shadow and Space” is from the poem “Ars Poetica” by Pablo Neruda. The long rhythmic and harmonic cycles that ride underneath throughout this track were initially provoked and accompanied by a digital text collage, made from fragments of chilling Pentagon statements about homeland’s dark shadow. But in the final version the text faded to an apparition, and the piece settled into this purely acoustic form.

“Chocolate Geometry” is inspired by a series of abstract and conceptual paintings by Mariángeles Soto-Díaz, and indulges in the sensual alchemy and bittersweet rupture of their shared subject.

I originally composed “Restless Years” in 2001 for the collective Cosmologic quartet, a group that is now like family to me. The internal pressure of the trio’s remix caps this first section of the album, and sets a stage for the rest.

The “Duo Improvisation” between myself and Tyshawn Sorey is just that, with Tyshawn’s amazingly fluid (but always oblique) sense of musical architecture bubbling up through the cracks.

From the delicate unfolding of Christopher Tordini’s bass solo through its shattering final passacaglia, “Anthesis” [the flowering period of a plant] is one long line, at times turning back on itself or hiding its true contours, but always opening.

“Granulorum” is a refuge, a progression of loosely sketched boxes of minutiae gathered from the crevices in the electro/acoustic divide.

“Water Seeks” is a sonic tableau in honor of the late Alice Coltrane, ending the album with a resonant but intricate peace.

– Michael Dessen