Dan Weiss

For close to a decade Dan Weiss has been one of the more interesting and reliable percussionists on the New York jazz scene, a team player with an excellent sound and a steady curiosity. He’s also a superb tabla player, having spent nearly two decades studying with Pandit Samir Chatterjee. Those dual skills have made him a natural, valuable fit in some of the bands led by alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, which seamlessly explore the worlds of postbop and music of the Indian subcontinent. He’s made a few recordings under his own name—a couple of jazz trio albums and some hybrid solo efforts featuring drum kit and Indian percussion—but as impressive as his playing and writing have been in the past, they in no way prepared me for the vision he shares on his excellent new album Fourteen (Pi).

Fourteen is an uninterrupted seven-part through-composed suite that rolls through shifting rhythmic patterns, overlapping and cycling melodic lines, and rich harmonies, constantly acquiring new details and instrumental colors as it progresses. Pianist Jacob Sacks and bassist Thomas Morgan form the music’s backbone with breathless, imperturbable grooves—ever-shifting, polymetric, and dense—but a veritable army of collaborators provide the melodic material, which arrives in exhilarating waves inextricably linked to the rhythmic foundation. Singers Judith Berkson, Lana Cencic, and Maria Neckam act as a multitiered choir, unspooling wordless lines in tight unison—occasionally and powerfully altered by a stray line of counterpoint—and when saxophonists Dave Binney and Ohad Talmor join in the fray on a later section, they add their grainy tones to the vocalists’ pure sounds. At other times trombonists Jacob Garchik and Ben Gerstein blow fat-toned passages—they provide a bridge between the fourth and fifth sections with a subdued, tuneful kind of mini fanfare, before the saxophones and voices gingerly interject and the band kicks back into high gear. Guitarist Miles Okazaki alternates between skittering acoustic lines that feel like part of the contrapuntal mesh and searing electric solos that push toward hard-rock extroversion.

The soundscape also includes glistening harp from Katie Andrews and lovely accents and countermelodic fragments by Matt Mitchell on glockenspiel, second piano, and organ. It’s a dense, information-packed piece of work that doesn’t have a lot of antecedents I can trace—though it’s hard to miss the influence of Henry Threadgill’s Very Very Circus in its combination of paired instruments and contrapuntal splendor. Fourteen is an ambitious undertaking that seems unlikely to be performed—in this incarnation, at least—outside of New York, but the recording has already given me a lot of pleasure. Below you can check out “Part One,” but keep in mind that no one section of this album can possibly paint a full picture of its depth.

YouTube video

Today’s playlist:

Yann Robin, Vulcano/Art of Metal I, III (Kairos)
Jeff Davis, Leaf House (Fresh Sound New Talent)
Vitaly Golovnev Quartet, What Matters (Tippin’)
Mark Solborg, 4+4+1 (ILK)
Frank Sinatra, The Concert Sinatra (Concord)

Peter Margasak writes about jazz every Friday.