AMN Reviews: Dan Weiss – Sixteen: Drummers Suite (2016; Pi Recordings)

Drummer Dan Weiss’s 2014 album, Fourteen, topped my best of list for that year. Thus, it should be no surprise that I was looking forward to Weiss’s next effort.  Made available last week, Sixteen: Drummers Suite continues to develop the thematic and compositional approach that Weiss began on Fourteen – in short, if you liked Fourteen, you should not hesitate to pick up this release.

Not unlike its predecessor, Sixteen: Drummers Suite focuses on high-composed, intricate music, and lands somewhere between jazz, modern classical and progressive rock. Weiss is accompanied by fifteen other musicians, including notables such as Jen Shyu, Miles Okazaki, Matt Mitchell, Jacob Sacks, David Binney, Jacob Garchik, Miguel Zenon, and Anna Webber. In addition to Weiss’s drums, the instrumentation includes bass, guitar, piano, synthesizer, saxophones, trombones, tuba, flute, voices, harp, glockenspiel, organ, vibraphone, tabla and percussion.

The album consists of seven pieces, and six focus on the style of a particular jazz drummer. Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Tony Williams, Philly Joe Jones, Kenny Clarke, and Ed Blackwell are represented, while the first track is a minute-long solo drum composition that combines the influences of all of the aforementioned gentlemen. The liner notes cite to specific source material for each track. But Weiss was studying the works of Iannis Xenakis and Per Nørgård during the writing of Sixteen: Drummers Suite. As a result, the compositions do not come off as a drummer’s tribute to icons of the past, or a “drummer’s album” in any sense. Instead, this effort can be listened to and enjoyed without even being aware of Weiss’s influences.

Featuring tightly-written counterpoint, overlapping melodies, dense structures, and wordless vocals, Weiss has achieved a level of sophistication and new-music complexity approaching that of Anthony Braxton. Adding in a hint of Indian classical and minimalism at times, he keeps us guessing which twists and turns he might take through this landscape. Perhaps the most notable track is the 15-minute Ed (for Ed Blackwell), which starts with a warm horn prelude before departing into ominous waters featuring horns, piano, and vocals simultaneously building to something between an orchestral piece and a free-jazz blowout.

For the second time in two years, Dan Weiss has produced an album-of-the-year-level effort. With any luck, this trend will continue.

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