AMN Reviews: Dan Weiss – Starebaby (2018; Pi Recordings)

It is no secret what I think of drummer Dan Weiss’s work over the last several years. His 2014 release, Fourteen, was an album of the year, while his 2016 release, Sixteen: Drummers Suite, repeated that honor. Both of those albums focused on Weiss’s dense, layered compositions for large ensembles. On Starebaby, he offers some of the same note-filled angularities but experiments with spaciousness as well.

Joined by Ben Monder on guitar, Trevor Dunn on bass, and with Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell doubling up on piano and keyboard duties, Weiss eschews the orchestral leanings of his previous two releases and instead focuses on works for this smaller group. While heavily composed and exhibiting a strong sense of structure, these tracks open up from time to time and leave room for group interpretation. The result hovers somewhere between chamber rock, metal, and jazz but does not fit into any of these genres.

Dan_Weiss_Quintet_photo_by_Stephanie_Ahn_Weiss_The album opens with A Puncher’s Chance, featuring strong chording from Monder overlaid on themes set forth by Taborn and Mitchell.  The latter two also add accentuations and flourishes, while the rhythm section deliberately wends its way through labyrinthine lines. Depredation is a slower piece that begins with a more traditional rock drumming approach from Weiss. Monder and the keyboardists trade off motifs until Weiss and Dunn settle on a tense, jagged pattern of beats. Monder provides distorted, bent notes that evolves into a solo speed-picking improvisation. Another standout track is The Memory of My Memory, which begins with an atmospheric soundscape from Monder, Taborn, and Mitchell. This settles into a brief jazz piano theme, before cosmic keyboard effects and Monder’s heavy riffing bring about a more ominous tone. Over this wall of noise, Weiss maintains an active and varying effort, which culminates an a punctuated, staccato arrangement that could easily fall under the avant-metal label.

Starebaby provides an alternate look into the mind of Weiss. Fans of his previous efforts will enjoy the album. Additionally, given the similarities between the musical directions of Weiss and Mitchell, anyone who has appreciated Mitchell’s recent solo album or his work of late with Tim Berne should give this effort a try. There are moments of pure brilliance herein.

Starebaby will be out April 6th on Pi Recordings.