Dan Weiss first impressed me via the YouTube clips of him replicating/translating the voice of an auctioneer to drums and the fast-talker guy from a TV advert. In and around that folly Weiss has carved out a career as a cutting-edge player across jazz and improvisation, as leader and session sit-in guy. Adept across the kit and tabla and as a composer, he’s made a handful of records under his own name and this, his fifth, refers to the number of players involved.
Yes, this audacious work – a symphony of sorts – is a seven-piece instrumental suite that irons out jazz and exposes aspects of classical and prog-rock, of the arty metal attack that comes from listening to jazzers like John Zorn and the film composition work of Ennio Morricone.
When I first listened to Fourteen I tried to find touchstones, I thought of Max Roach’s To The Max! and Zorn’s Spillane and Sebastien Tellier’s most recent album; I thought too of Petra Haden’s solo work, her a capella renditions of movie music – on second listen and subsequent listens to Fourteen, easily the record I’m currently most obsessed with, I started trying to imagine all of those albums I’ve just named colliding, someone very clever (Weiss, obviously) building a whole new sound from the detritus.
But that’s not really explaining this work. Nor its impact.
It stuns me – as with when I first heard Zorn’s more ambitious works and the pieces Roach was composing later in his career for chorus of voices against horns and strings, as with Tellier’s subversion of Mantovani-like cheesiness, as with Petra Haden’s bold voice-only recreations of familiar themes. I thought too of Jack DeJohnete’s stunning world-music fusion, the way the grooves bubble up over and how there’s such a force, such an energy driving it all – but no anger, despite how abrasive, how almost brutal it can sound.
Weiss’ through-composed pieces on Fourteen are a masterwork and the players all get their moment to shine, if not thoroughly individually then as part of the whole, but there’s so much in this record that when you return to it – it begs you, it finishes as if unresolved, as if the secret answer is only there if you start again, then start again, then start again – you’ll focus in on a new strength each time, you’ll hear – and almost start to see – the new colours that each player offers. There’s a trio of voices that never sing a word, rather they’re used like a second horn line, a whole new section that sits in a space next to the horns, touching on percussion almost, and thoughtfully telegraphing some of the drum spills and fills, providing hair-raising chills as they hint around old horror film scores.
It’s dizzyingly vast and eclectic and somehow utterly chaotic and bonkers and then beautifully serene, thoughtful, wise and peace-conjuring. And this is happening all at once.
The drums work as a piston, a hair-trigger to snap the music into new directions, you can almost feel the swishes and swipes at cymbals and toms and start to see them as the conductor’s baton.
And though it’s often startling it never ever seems indulgent.
It’s the record of Weiss’ career – and you just know he’s going to go ahead and (somehow) top this.
And it’s currently my favourite record of the year. Which might seem like nothing at all, or even a little crazy, but it means a lot to me to say it when I’ve discovered so many amazing records this year already.
This one is now top of that list. And it feels like the special sort of record that’ll still be there high on the list at the end of the year and for many years to come.