In Mark Turner’s fifth album, Dharma Days, he displays his eclectic breadth of taste in jazz music and his great skill and virtuosity in the art of playing the tenor saxophone. Although the album showcases nine of Turner’s own compositions, the album is as much led by guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel as it is by Turner. Like most contemporary saxophonists, Turner’s work is greatly influenced by John Coltrane, especially Coltrane’s post-bop period. The first and third songs, “Iverson’s Odyssey” and “Myron’s World,” respectively, are especially indicative of this fact. In the true spirit of post-bop, “Iverson’s Odyssey” contains long, rambling, experimental yet speedy jams passed back and forth between Turner and Rosenwinkel. “Myron’s World,” on the other hand, recalls an earlier, less experimental period during Coltrane’s career yet still sounds progressive due to the combination of drawn-out, mournful notes from Turner’s saxophone and the speedy and complex improvisation from Rosenwinkel’s guitar. “Deserted Floor” begins much more like a traditional blues song—slower, with a heavier bassline—but then progresses into a more contemporary sounding composition. In “Casa Oscura,” the album reaches its peak—Turner’s saxophone and Rosenwinkel’s guitar effortlesslyfuse to form one broad, rich sound and then seamlessly break away from one another to trade off jams in an interesting musical dialogue.
This is not the type of instrumental album that you can play as background music. The overall tone and emotion given off by Turner and Rosenwinkel’s complex improvisations to the casual listener is one of tension, almost panic. Just as the music is layered, so is the inherent emotion and attitude. A certain level of effort is required to understand the feeling behind each song, but the outcome is rewarded and fans of contemporary jazz will enjoy this album. However, those listeners who are accustomed to the slow, deep and easygoing style of blues may find Dharma Days abrasive and lacking in hooks and melody. In either case, this album has the potential to broaden the listener’s musical horizons if listened to with an open mind.
—Steven N. Jacobs
Sound Go Round
The self-consciously retro album cover for Dressy Bessy’s Sound Go Round looks like it came out of your Mom’s record collection, and the band itself seems to want to drift back to an easier, earlier time. The shot of them in the liner notes enjoying a park in autumn recalls Simon and Garfunkel, and the mounted police in the background seem ready to bust up those kids and that infernal hippy music. Unfortunately, the band with the rhyming name lacks the musical wherewithal to back up their allusions. Their songs drift towards the repetitive, as their tepid lyrics go swirling down the drain again and again and again.
Several tracks start out with promise. “That’s Why” gets the rhythm moving, with Tammy Ealom’s untuned vocals musing over a happy-go-lucky guitar riff. The lyrics, as whimsical as Dressy Bessy’s name, could easily be fun: “Oh my / He’s shy shy / guess that’s why / He’s bye bye.” But the song goes exactly nowhere. The rhythm guitar cycles through the same riff, the band playing on automatic pilot until a bridge takes them back to where they started. And that’s on one of the good tracks. Don’t even ask about “Fare Thee Well,” which grates like cheddar cheese. For a rookie band, I would suggest that someone learn lead guitar. But a group with as many albums to their name as Dressy Bessy must be going for some deliberate effect. The singing only adds to Dressy Bessy’s troubles. Liz Phair can get away with gravelly vocals, leaning toward the tuneless. She does it right, making it sexy and mixing it up. But Phair never tried it with two-part harmony. It’s the uneasy polyphony between Ealom and her back-up that makes the off-pitch vocals on tracks like “Just Being Me” such an uncomfortable experience. Ealom isn’t gravelly, but the song begins to drone when the harmony doesn’t click.
You may be able to enjoy Sound Go Round. By the second time, you may start to like it. But give it away before you listen a third time, lest the unendingly cheery album deliver a relentless headache.
—Benjamin D. Margo