Dave Phillips & Freedance

Confluence
Innova 837

By Ken Waxman

There’s good and bad news about Confluence, the fourth CD by bassist Dave Phillips and his Freedance ensemble. The good news is that after two decades of playing together the band has evolved a distinctive sound that presents the combo to its best advantage, even when, as on this CD, it’s expanded by adding two additional musicians. The bad news is that this formula varies little from track to track, making the disc sound like eight variations on a single theme.

Equally experienced playing Broadway shows and studio sessions as well as education-based performances and straight-ahead jazz gigs, Phillips composed all the tunes here, never shying away from the mainstream and emphasizing melodies and clean instrumental interplay. Each of the regular quartet members, including alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher, guitarist Rez Abbasi and drummer Tony Moreno, performs with nothing less than sympathetic interaction. The most common thematic strategy involves blending O’Gallagher’s lyrical patterns with Abbasi’s power chording as the others periodically decorate the narrative. One would suspect that pianist Jon Werking and percussionist Glen Fitten are added to provide more tonal colors, but except in a couple of instances, it’s more a case of accentuating the already-present textures.

Overall, chordal emphasis in the compositions is more often than not created by guitarist’s vibrating lines; mostly reducing the pianist to infrequently heard comping. As for the percussionist, he’s most responsible for the hint of a Latin beat appears during the exposition of “Cricket Song” as well as moving tambourine smacks to foreground on “Tanchjaz”. It’s these touches as well as straight-ahead key-chiming from Werking; Phillips’ moderated pizzicato lines on “Mistral”; and a slight tempo change on “RT” that help distinguish one track from another.

Consequently tunes which are a little different, such as “Cricket Song” and “Gathering Rain” become the most memorable. On the former, alongside conga bounces, Abbasi’s staccato acoustic guitar lines are notably dexterous when paired with Phillips’ bass strings snaps and O’Gallagher’s smoother-than-smooth trilling. On the latter, a soupçon of tension is initially advanced, with rapid strumming from both string players creating an underlying buzz. Soon however, rapid guitar picking and arching bass bow work downshift to a more moderated theme statement.

Pleasant enough and very likely unparalleled relaxed night club music in person, as a recorded program Confluence has little trouble reflecting the “dance” portion of the band’s name. The “free” designation is more problematic though and ultimately mislaid.

Tracks: Exit 13; Pyramids; Cricket Song; RT; Tanchaz; Gathering Rain; Confluence; Mistral

Personnel: John O’Gallagher: alto saxophone: Rez Abbasi: guitars; Jon Werking: piano; Dave Phillips: electric and acoustic bass; Tony Moreno: drums; Glen Fitten: percussion

—For New York City Jazz Record December 2012