Dan Weiss, Fourteen

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 03.06.14 in Reviews

The first section of Dan Weiss’s ambitious 37-minute opus sets an indelible impression that affects the listening experience the rest of the way. Musical forces steadily gather, like an armada. Pianist Jacob Sacks opens with a slightly repetitious rhythmic passage for nearly a minute before it’s counterbalanced by Weiss on drums. A horn — or is it a human voice? — adds its tonal layer. By the six-minute mark, there is a heaving roil of saxophones and trombones, three wordless voices, organ, guitar, bass and even a harp. When everything but the organ drops out, it feels like a religious cleansing for another build-up in “Part Two.” But this second section stays intimate with its repetitious engagement. A fragile, twirling beauty is retained by harp and guitar, harp and piano, and some glockenspiel, then the music quickens and shifts instead of massing, with cymbals and voices, then hand claps.

There are 14 musicians on Fourteen, and while the program lists “Part One” through “Part Seven,” this through-composition plays out as an uninterrupted whole. The poker-faced labels both obscure and imply the portentous and unwieldy yet delightfully unpredictable and unified music within. There is deliberately a lot at Weiss’s disposal, and after unleashing it all and then scaling back to dabbles, he has you ready for anything, be it the sonic equivalent of a tsunami or a haiku. “Part Three” has Weiss doing vocal scat that owes more to Indian classical music than jazz (he is a disciple of both), followed by the brass and reeds at their most jazz-like and agile, making foghorn blasts before blending with Weiss’s drums in a manner that presages the symphonic prog-rock of “Part Four.” The repetitious lyricism of “Part Five” yields to the stomp, thunder and armada-styled accretion of “Part Six.” And “Part Seven” bookends with “Part One” via the opening piano solo, then soft vocals mix with the dense hum and croak of Jacob Garchik’s softly blown tuba. The mixture of longtime Weiss cohort Miles Okazaki on classical guitar with the harp of Katie Andrews, some more Sacks piano and some high voices, feels more like a dawning than a denouement before it fades away.

There are some great individual musicians here — Weiss is a well-respected, first-call sideman who has been named “Top Up and Coming Percussionist” two years running in the Downbeat Critics’ Poll — but they are in service to the composition. There are precious few solos here, and that helps make Fourteen more than the sum of its numerable and estimable parts.