by Raul da Gama
The title of this disc – A Gathering Foretold – by Daniel Dickinson makes it sound like something which could have taken place around Stonehenge. Certainly with all the magic that unfolds song after song, it comes closest to what might happen at one of the most ancient of shrines, where instead of a gathering of druids, we have a gathering of a group equally magical: musicians practicing their extraordinary art. Additionally, A Gathering Foretold brings together a new and a newer generation of musicians and seems to be presided over by the extraordinary talents of Daniel Dickenson – its notional leader – and Ulysses Owens Jr. – its facilitator.
Anyone playing the alto saxophone will be hard-pressed to make a statement or sing a song that has not been heard before, what with Charlie Parker having forever dictated what can and cannot be said or sung on Adolphe Sax’s iconic invention. But Daniel Dickinson is not fazed by the instrument, nor is he overawed by the fact that Bird Lives. Indeed, Dickinson has a novel way of paying homage to the man who influenced not simply how the alto saxophone will be played, but also the bass, and the piano and the trumpet and almost every other instrument; the young alto saxophonist has proffered his interpretations of eleven songs – including some of his own – for consideration of inclusion into the library of Jazz.
The angular, bardic writing and moments of sparser scoring reveal Dickinson going his own way. The aching harmonies and the downward melodic phrases belie the monumental talent of the alto saxophonist and with Ulysses Owens Jr. holding down the rhythmic end of the music it’s certain that even in the gentlest of movements through this recording there is nothing here that will lull a baby to sleep in a hurry. The swirling horns are held together by Dickinson who is unafraid to bring an occasional astringent edge to a curvaceous melody or extra heft to low sustained notes from Michael Dease’s trombone (Cry of the Wolf) or to Mercedes Beckman’s baritone saxophone elsewhere on the disc.
All of the musicians respond in kind, in a suave performance, the likes of which is going to be hard to emulate on many a future date. For one, the brilliantly articulated music, edgily inflected, and played with inspired dynamic by a Daniel Dickinson, a musician whose star seems to be rapidly rising. In contrast to Dickinson’s reserve Ulysses Owens Jr.’s brand of hyper-romanticism holds nothing back, while pianists Joshua Bowlus and Christian Sands (Voyage to Somewhere) serve up heaps of counterpoint, accelerated phrases, wild runs and many harmonic tricks.
Meanwhile the gathering of brilliant saxophonists, a trumpeter who lights things up and a trombonist who can play every part, including that of the trombonist that he has been assigned, all provide enough moments of calm before each virtuoso storm from Dickinson. And while all of this is happening, Reuben Rogers holds up a stellar bass line with incisive phrasing, superior intonation and a vivid sense of character. All of this and more, contributes towards making A Gathering Foretold a truly magnificent disc.