Devin Drobka's Bell Dance Group sounds like little else in midwestern jazz | Bleader

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Devin Drobka's Bell Dance Group sounds like little else in midwestern jazz

Posted By on 12.10.14 at 02:00 PM

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Devin Drobka
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  • Devin Drobka

Milwaukee drummer Devin Drobka—an increasing local presence through his membership in Andrew Trim's Dim Lighting, various groupings with former Chicago guitarist Dave Miller, the free jazz group Sweet Talk, and Chris Weller's Hanging Hearts, among others—rolls into town tomorrow evening with his own group, Bell Dance Songs, for a show at Constellation. Earlier this year the quartet released a pithy, eponymous eight-track album wherein the meditative, melancholy shapes of Drobka's melodies consistently create tension with his frenetic, active drumming (particularly his cymbal work).

More often than not tenor saxophonist Chris Weller and guitarist Jay Mollerskov deliver those melodic lines in measured unison, with the attractively tart tone of the former melding with the murky resonance of the latter. And in the case of something like the album's opening track "Blues Town," which you can hear below, the winding shapes of those Ornette Coleman-tinged melodies are extended. Aside from some sharp accents and tonal nuances, the front line doesn't improvise much at all, leaving the heavy lifting to the drummer; bassist John Christensen holds it all down with an almost stoic heft. Drobka owes a heavy debt to the great Paul Motian: the former exhibits his mentor's love for slow-motion melodies colliding with kinetic, jagged percussion, and a wonderfully clattery and propulsive style. On its surface "It's Been Days Since I've Heard From You" is practically somnambulant, with slowly crawling melody cradled by more austere drum patterns from Drobka, but there's an appealing rough grain to the timbre. "For Paul (Dia De)" pushes things into the red, as Weller veers into the upper register of his tenor and Mollerskov adapts a slightly abrasive, brittle tone that recalls the sound of Joe Morris. There are actually times when I think a bit of swing or funk might complement the skittery, almost hydroplaning feel of the drumming, but I'm not complaining. There isn't much in the midwest that sounds like this today.

Today's playlist:

Various artists, The King Bullard Version: Songs of the BOS Label (Numerophon)
Jerome Sabbagh, The Turn (Sunnyside)
Various artists, Afrobeat Airways 2: Return Flight to Ghana 1974-1983 (Analog Africa)
Marcin Wasilewski Trio w/ Joakim Milder, Spark of Life (ECM)
Ava Luna, Electric Balloons (Western Vinyl)

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