Twenty One 4tet

Live at Zaal 100
Clean Feed CF 366 CD

Dikeman Noble Serries Trio

Obscure Fluctuations

Trost TR 134

By Ken Waxman

Like migrating species seeking a better climate, US musicians frequently expatriate to Europe to gain more appreciation and opportunities: think of Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins in the 1930s or Steve Lacy and Nathan Davis in the 1960s. But with the jazz world more expansive and the idea of American jazz superiority as outmoded as some aspects of US foreign policy, increasingly improvisers are leaving this continent to become part of a vibrant multi-national musical culture. Take Wyoming-raised Amsterdam-based tenor saxophonist John Dikeman. His European-honed dexterity allows him to interact with the best from Yanks Hamid Drake and William Parker to the European crews here. These CDs are as planted in the on-going free jazz genre as an onion is in the soil. But like a harvested onion when peeled, each reveals different aspects of Dikeman’s art.

London-recorded Obscure Fluctuations for instance, won’t be obscure to free music devotees. The fluctuations emanate from the guitar of Belgian Dirk Serries, whose decades-old allegiance to noise, digital and avant rock is tempered with improvisational smarts. A Limey version of Drake with protean experience, drummer Steve Noble completes the trio. On two extended improvisations the band projects musical chiaroscuro, highlighting passages of lightness and dark, delicacy and coarseness in equal measure. “The Heart Strips Bare” is particularly desiccated. Flat-line reed buzzes and string slaps stream together into a hypnotic narrative as if the three are traversing acres of unvarying desert scenery. Dikeman’s querulous multiphonics are more evident on “From the Absent to Refusal”, as the trio works to a crescendo that attains spectacular son et lumière communication. Noble’s percussion pressure and Serries’ string slashes meld with the saxophone’s petulant cries to produce a squirming, inchoate mass. From then on guitar plinks, cymbal vibrations and reed split tones slice individual timbres off the narrative like partitioning a roast, until the piece fades to reassuring concordance.

Recorded six months later in Amsterdam, Live at Zaal 100 is a tribute to the new thing of the ‘60s. This configuration includes two Dutchmen: bassist Wilbert De Joode and drummer Onno Govaert. Govaert and Dikeman are in the Cactus Truck band; De Joode is Holland’s William Parker. The equivalent of a nata custard tart among Dutch dairy products is fourth member, Portuguese trumpeter Luís Vicente. His brass sensibility calls upon the free playing of Don Cherry and the free bop of Freddie Hubbard in equal measure.

With horn players digging out freak notes, the yeasty interaction pivots at times to contrast Vicente’s dappled high notes with Dikeman’s glossolalia. Appropriately the four hit their stride on “Rising Tide”, where like a foppish school boy deciding to roughhouse, the trumpeter ups his intensity in response to cymbal-shaking accents plus Dikeman’s triple-tongued moans. De Joode’s flinty pumps keep the rising tide from immersing the melody. “Undertow” is a pointillist demonstration of Vincenre’s tessitura range. The concluding “Vesuvius” is like its namesake a volcanic demonstration of the power of unbridled freedom. When the saxophonist uncorks a banshee-like wail, tonal comparisons to Albert Ayler are obvious. Yet the trumpeter’s muted grace notes temper reed prickliness as if a blanket has been thrown over an angry porcupine, while De Joode’s triple-stopping thrusts relax the exposition to steady, almost swinging motion. Developing a variant of energy music means Dikeman can hold his own with anyone, as these CDs prove. Similarly his expatriate status allows him to test his mettle against experienced players he may not cross paths with stateside.

Track Listing: Live: Red Moon; Rising Tide; Undertow; Vesuvius

Personnel: Live: Luis Vicente: trumpet; John Dikeman: tenor saxophone; Wilbert De Joode: bass; Onno Govaert: drums

Track Listing: Obscure: From Assent to Refusal; The Heart Strips Bare

Personnel: Obscure: John Dikeman: tenor saxophone; Dirk Serries: guitar; Steve Noble: drums

—For The New York City Jazz Record October 2016