Whit Dickey Quartet – Astral Long Form: Staircase In Space

Whit Dickey Quartet – Astral Long Form: Staircase In Space

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Released May 6, 2022

[TAO 09] - CD in heavyweight digipak, with liner notes by William Parker
 * Note Special 2xCD Bundle Option together with Root Perspectives.

Whit Dickey: drums, compositions
Rob Brown: alto saxophone

Mat Maneri: viola

Brandon Lopez: bass

Drummer–percussionist Whit Dickey channels ecstatic cosmic vibration together with a stellar quartet on Astral Long Form: Staircase In Space, his second album as a leader for TAO Forms.

“The interaction between players is perfect. Entrances, exits, the spaces between sound and silence, all meeting at the right moment. This is great human music that will stand up to any dark forces in any universe.”
 –William Parker

Since the launch of TAO Forms in 2020, Whit Dickey has curated an astonishing series of releases showcasing some of the most forward-looking voices in modern jazz and creative music. Among them is Jesup Wagon by James Brandon Lewis’ Red Lily Quintet, which topped several year-end ‘Best of 2021’ lists, including #1 in JazzTimes Critics’ Poll and the coveted top spot in the international Jazz Critics Poll established by Francis Davis.

The label has also provided an outlet for Dickey’s own vital work – first with 2020’s breathtaking trio date, Expanding Light, featuring his 30+ year colleague, maestro alto saxophonist Rob Brown, and young firebrand bassist Brandon Lopez. That trio returns in quartet here – joined by violist Mat Maneri, another virtuoso with whom Dickey shares a long history.  Astral Long Form is without doubt one of the drummer’s most adventurous works to date. These five conceptually interwoven pieces, as performed by this intuitive new quartet, may well come to be considered his masterwork. Well, one of them..

“I asked Rob, Brandon and Mat to not think about time too much; I just wanted them to play; not to follow me or each other. There was a lot of freedom granted, and I hoped the lines would intersect with meaning.”

For Dickey that freedom emerged, in part, from a period of profound loss, on top of the dispirited feeling we’ve all shared over the past couple of years. The album is dedicated to the drummer’s mother, who died in late 2020. And, just ten days before the February 2021 recording session, Dickey’s onetime mentor from his time at Bennington College, master percussionist and thinker Milford Graves passed.

“This album wasn’t conceived with Professor Graves in mind,” Dickey says, “but I can’t help but pay homage to him when I play. His unique approach to the bass pedal and the way he used his feet had a big influence on me.  And, I definitely felt a kind of freedom after my mom passed because she gave me the freedom to follow my bliss when I really needed it.”

Whatever the sources of energy that ripple through the album, there is a sustained, enrapturing mode that unites its five parts. In keeping with the drummer’s yin/yang view of musical balance – exemplified not only by the label name, but in the duality of his previous quartet release, Peace Planet / Box of Light, this album opens immediately into a heretofore under-explored expanse. Staircase in Space luxuriates in open space and atmospheres, untethered from the common notion of time.

Regarding the title, Dickey explains “It’s a long form in the sense that the music stays in a long vibration ringing throughout its rhythmic underpinning. These vibrations form a growing staircase and the phenomenon goes on ad infinitum.” He continues, “I was looking for something more relaxing, where I could ground myself, the way I can when I hear Cecil Taylor or John Coltrane. I like that feeling where everything seems to float – it’s comfortable.”

1. Blue Circuit - 19:33
2. Space Quadrant - 06:47
3. The Pendulum Turns - 10:05
4. Staircase in Space - 11:01
5. Signify - 15:29

All compositions by Whit Dickey,
in collaboration with the Quartet;
© Whit Dickey (BMI)

Recorded, Mixed & Mastered by Jim Clouse
at Park West Studios, Brooklyn

Produced by Whit Dickey
Liner notes by William Parker
Art & Design by William Mazza Studio