Drummer and composer Dan Weiss continues a decade-plus run of compelling releases. He really hit his stride in 2014 with Fourteen, and has continued explorations on an annual or biennial basis. Natural Selection is the second offering from Weiss’s Starebaby outfit, which includes Matt Mitchell on piano and synth, Craig Taborn on piano, Fender Rhodes, and synth, Ben Monder on guitar, and Trevor Dunn on bass.
The group continues to navigate Weiss’s serpentine compositions, this time across eight tracks of varying lengths. While primarily known as a jazz drummer leaning toward the creative end of that genre, here Weiss combines influences encompassing progressive rock, metal, psychedelia…and yes, jazz. But on this album, these parts come together even more seamlessly than the group’s debut.
To that point, Episode 18 kicks off with heavy riffing from Monder, Dunn, and Weiss that varies between rapid cycles and more ponderous chording. Taborn and Mitchell join in to provide atmospherics, and then participate in a five-way free improvisational break before returning to the main theme. Head Wreck is another burner that incorporates Taborn and Mitchell’s dual piano attack with power chords from Monder over a staggered beat. Taborn solos on the Rhodes while Mitchell adds high own synth lines. Toward the middle of the track the entire group comes together with aggressive staccato patterns. A Taste of Memory, on the other hand, begins with wistful solo piano. Monder brings the fuzz guitar, and then breaks into a complex set of avant-rock themes accompanied by the entire group.
Natural Selection rocks, shreds, pounds, swings, introspects, and heads in quite a few unexpected directions. It is a more than suitable followup to Starebaby, and yet another must-have in the growing Weiss discography.