Improvisational Collective Bright Dog Red Make Their Most Ambitious Statement Yet On ‘Somethin’ Comes Along’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Almost exactly one year ago we brought you the second album from Bright Dog Red (BDR), a collective from Albany, NY that fuses free improvisation, electronica, jazz, hip hop, psychedelia, noise, and whatever else strikes their fancy. Now the collective has grown from five to seven and they are offering their most ambitious project yet, Somethin’ Comes Along, a double CD on Ropeadope. The band was founded by drummer and composer Joe Pignato, a professor at the State University of New York, Oneonta and established through freewheeling jam sessions that he led, some tracing back to over a decade ago. Pignato got his grounding under the tutelage of Yusef Lateef who was a renowned music improviser and was always committed to “changing the colours of the musical canvas”, as he once said. And that’s very much proved to be something of a mantra when it comes to the music of Bright Dog Red.”

Somethin’ Comes Along album features two hourlong sides culled from three discrete sessions. The first CD, Somethin’ is akin the free-flowing improvisation that BDR has become known for in their live performances and previous releases. The second side, Somethin’ Else, gets spacey, a little further out. Both feature plenty of spoken word, poetry, and freestyling, which occur on seven of the eleven on Somethin’ and on eight of the nine on Somethin’ Else. Taken together, this is an even broader scope than BDR, known for their freewheeling style, has previously presented.

BDR’s members rotate in and out but the band maintains consistency in approach. This recording features seven contributors. Returning members from the previous album are bandleader Joe Pignato (drums, concepts), Cody Davies (sounds, electronics), Anthony Berman (bass) and Mike LaBombard (tenor saxophone). Rotating in are Matt Coonan (rhymes, freestyling), Tyreek Jackson (guitar, electric bass), and Eric Person (sopranino, soprano, alto saxophone, flute, kalimba). That lineup will give an indication of what they sound like, as rhymes and sounds merge with multiple instruments.  The beauty lies in the unpredictability of their wild and/or spacey excursions. Louis Marks, CEO of Ropeadope, one of the most progressive and edgy labels in music says this, “Bright Dog Red is perhaps the most unique band to grace the halls of Ropeadope, and that’s quite an accomplishment. Bright Dog Red hits the stage without charts or a setlist – they simply start playing and improvise, taking cues form each other and from the audience and roon. It’s adventurous, and due to the skill and rapport of the players, surprisingly cohesive.” Marks is talking about live performances mostly and prior to the onset of the virus, BDR was booking increasingly high-profile dates, e.g., Winter Jazzfest, Ars Nova in Philadelphia, and Berklee College of Music.

These sessions were produced and recorded by Pignato near Albany at BDR’s headquarters, the Disco Studio. The album was captured live, each session wholly improvised. From its earliest days, Bright Dog Red has recorded this way and the spontaneity is evident on each track. Pignato comments, “We’re kind of a go for broke ensemble. We start with a lose plan. I’ll offer a concept of direct a player to start with a mood or a style. There are references we tend to favor, jazz, electronica, hip hop, psychedelia, and those things weave in and out but it’s pretty open, which is liberating but kind of frightening.  It can spur some confusion, trepidation, like “hmmm, what should we play?” Or, “uh, where’re we going next?” At some point though, we stop thinking about what to play and start listening for what to play. So, there’s risk, but there’s also this comforting surrender to the process.”

BDR has released the title track, “Somethin’ Comes Along,” as a single and it depicts their hard-edged free jazz stylings with slight hints of electronica. There are eleven tracks on the disc, mostly in the six-minute range, with a couple of short interlude pieces and many like the last track, “Before I Melt to Nothing” containing spoken word.  Here’s just a brief excerpt of Coonan’s freestyle lyrics– “I craft poems to crack domes open and stack more tokens/My chromosomes frozen/From web surfin’ to Google Chrome coastin’/gotta keep this showboat floatin’…”   Others highlights n Disc 1 in that mode include ‘Dagnabbit,” the electronica-fused “Red Snapper,” and the epic “Ready for the War” which is a showcase for the reed players and prime example of how BDR successfully merges their various influences. It’s somewhat tempting to try to describe the other pieces, but this is adventurous listening so it’s best to leave it to your own headphone experience, which can be both exciting and mesmerizing.

Having said that, a few words on Disc 2 seem appropriate. “Trouble Come My Way’ is the second single, a spacey floating piece imbued by organ, electronic, Person’s flute, LaBombard’s tenor, a whirlwind of percussion and a few Coonan lyrics, this being the most substantial passage – “If trouble comes to me, I’m standing with a thousand open doors/I flip the world and sit and watch as every ocean pours/into the gullet of the beast from the east/Fill the belly till it burst into everlasting peace. Disc 2 is bookended by two pieces extending beyond 10 minutes. First is ‘“Down to the Filter” with its wild set of freestyling passage and the closing, even more riveting “Tuned In” which begins with “You are now tuned in to the last puddle from the rainstorm/Everything that evaporated already is waiting in a cloud above the horizon/Everything that evaporates already wants to come back down to earth” to “You are now tuned in to the broken mouth birdhouse, yolk spilling, like cracked stars, dust coiling back into dawn.”  Midway through comes “Dust” with it an opening line that immediately grabs attention – “I mean, lately I’ve been feeling like a speck of dust.”

One can get seriously lost in this blur of music, noise, and words for a couple of hours. It may be one of the most enjoyable escapes you can make in our stay-at-home world these days.

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