Bright Dog Red’s Double Release


From left, BDR’s Cody Davies, Tyreek Jackson and Mike LaBombard. “There’s a long history and precedent for what we do,” says drummer/bandleader Joe Pignato.

(Photo: Ken Spielman)

In a prior lifetime, back in the 1990s, Joe Pignato was a dedicated record company guy, first as the U.S. rep for Kurt Renker’s German-based CMP label (’90–’93) and then as right-hand man to Manfred Eicher at ECM Records (’93–’98). He later had a brief stint as consultant for Larry Rosen’s N2K label before going into education, earning an interdisciplinary master’s degree in music composition, cultural studies and cultural theory at New York University. Now a full professor and department chair of a vibrant music program at SUNY Oneonta in the central part of New York, Pignato leads a double life apart from the world of academia as drummer-conceptualist-bandleader and elder statesman of Bright Dog Red, an edgy intergenerational collective whose members were his former students.

The Albany-based band defies easy categorization by fusing funk, rock and free improv with socio-politico-cultural poetry/rapping in an audacious manner that is certainly au courant, but also has a precursor in the ’80s group Jayne Cortez & The Firespitters (led by the poet-social activist and former wife of Ornette Coleman and backed by Coleman’s Prime Time band members Jamaaladeen Tacuma on electric bass, Bern Nix on guitar and her son Denardo Coleman on drums). The group’s avant-funk edge also brings to mind other ’80s bands like Defunkt, The Contortions, Bill Laswell’s Material and the original Golden Palominos (with Laswell, Tacuma, Fred Frith, Arto Lindsay and John Zorn). Meanwhile, BDR’s facile, politically charged rapping recalls the ’80s Brooklyn-based, Afrocentric hip-hop group X Clan.

“Sometimes we hear from radio or press people or bookers at venues that our music is coming out of left field,” said Pignato. “But there’s a long history and precedent for what we do.” With Bright Dog Red’s two simultaneous new releases, Bad Magic and Hegemonitized, the group’s sixth and seventh outings on Ropeadope, Pignato and his young charges take things up a few notches on the intensity scale with some overt political messaging and hard-edged free improvising.

“I think of these two albums as a hybrid,” he said. “Hegemonitized may be more of live energy, where we’re starting to move into this angry music. Bad Magic shows more of the sheen of production.”

Those two outings follow on the heels of Bright Dog Red’s pandemic project, 2022’s groove-oriented Under The Porch (recorded with the players scattered in disparate locations) and 2021’s In Vivo, a completely improvised live outing from Brooklyn’s Shapeshifter Lab, the group’s home away from their Albany base.

“On the new albums, I credit myself with drums and concepts,” said Pignato, who teaches music industry courses, digital music and beat production at SUNY Oneonta and also directs student ensembles that perform experimental music and improvised rock. “And what I mean by that is just that we’re improvising music with the idea that we want to think about stuff that’s important to us. And so prior to recording these two new albums, we were having conversations about the role that misinformation is playing in everybody’s life and how quick people are to believe things that fit with what they want to believe. Or how people feel like they’re changing the world by being social media warriors. It’s almost like a strange allure for them. And that got me thinking about the people in the shadows manipulating things, whether it’s manipulating an election or manipulating people to buy products. So we start with concepts and talk about them, and then we go from there.”

On tunes like “Thoughts And Prayers,” a rumination on school shootings, and “Bone To Pick” (both from Bad Magic) or “Free America, My Contradiction” and “Hope Is Bleeding” (from Hegemonitized), poet-rapper Matt Coonan, an Oneonta alum who graduated in 2014, spits rhymes with a stunningly virtuosic flow while bringing pointedly provocative messaging and thoughtful verse to the table.

“He’s a really talented poet and was part of the slam poetry team at Oneonta,” said Pignato. “He eventually joined one of my student ensembles, and I just was amazed at how versatile he was in that group, so I eventually asked him to join Bright Dog Red. Now Matt has been on every project we’ve done since our third album.”

While Philly-based tenor saxophonist Mike LaBombard brings a robust, jazzy edge to the group, alternately sounding like Stanley Turrentine and Manu Dibango on the urgent numbers like “Up From Under From Up” and “Dustpan,” electric guitarist Tyreek Jackson lends a chopsy, fusionesque quality with his screaming distortion-laced solos on “Bone To Pick,” “On (dis)Information And (dis)Belief,” the raucous anthem “Free America, My Contradiction” and the edgy title track to Hegemonitized.

Trumpeter Martín Loyato, who lives in Spain, added his heavily effected, electric Miles Davis-influenced parts in three days of overdub sessions at Pignato’s home studio near Albany. And coloring it all is sonic explorer Cody Davies, who brings a painterly touch to the proceedings.

“He’s been such an important part of our sound,” said Pignato. “What he’s doing is basically live sample manipulation, and he’s extremely skilled at it. He also has a completely idiosyncratic approach to it. He’s comfortable with dissonance, he’s comfortable with consonance, and he’s just endlessly inventive.”

Rounding out the current lineup are acoustic bassist and BDR charter member Anthony Berman and the highly in-demand electric bassist Tim Lefebvre. Lefebvre, who has appeared on more than 150 recordings ranging from David Bowie, the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Jamie Cullum to Wayne Krantz, Donny McCaslin and Bill Evans, first appeared with Bright Dog Red on their 2020 COVID album, Under The Porch.

“Tim has been an early and incredibly generous supporter of this band,” said Pignato. “We connected on social media and it led to us doing a double bill with his trio with Jason Lindner and Zach Danziger at Shapeshifter. And as a seasoned musician who has played with a veritable Who’s Who, he is really changing the possibilities for the group, which is exciting.”

For Pignato and Bright Dog Red, it’s been a gradual progression since the band formed in 2015 and first played in public in November 2016. Now with Bad Magic and Hegemonitized, they are poised to take it to new heights. DB

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