Former Chicagoan Dan Phillips returns with his second release of 2017, this time teaming up with Jeb Bishop on trombone, Krzysztof Pabian on bass, and Tim Daisy playing drums. Phillips rounds out the group on electric guitar. Despite having three members and a general direction in common with Phillips’s Chicago Edge Ensemble, this lineup fleshes out its own sound.
Not unlike that prior album, Converging Tributaries is an amalgam of structure and spontaneity. Consisting of four tracks varying from 9 to 26 minutes, two are more composed than not while the others are primarily improvised. On Conspicuous Con, one of the composed pieces, Pabian and Daisy lay down the basic rhythms over which Phillips and Bishop take leads. Often, when one of these latter two are soloing, the other provides accentuations and motifs for color.
On the other hand, the openness of Swirling Headwaters suits its title. For most of its nearly 20 minutes, there is no particular lead instrument, though toward its end the group undertakes a more traditional jam for a few minutes. Regarding the free sections, Phillips and company play with confidence. None are in a hurry to achieve any notable goal other than to add their own contributions to those of the rest of the group. Thus, the track moves seamlessly between order and chaos, with varying tone and dynamics. To these ears, the more disorganized sections are the high point of the album.