Whit Dickey Quartet

Astral Long Form: Staircase In Space
(TAO Forms)

Drummer and project maker Whit Dickey has been expending significant creative energies as a connective agent to world of free improvisation, through his TAO Forms label, rising out of the pandemic-era ashes in May 2020. But his own efforts as a marquee leader and musical matchmaker command respect and attention. Astral Long Form: Staircase In Space, the follow-up to last year’s bold and brasher TAO debut and trio date Expanding Light, is another free-ranging force to reckon with, albeit rooted in softer general musical soil.

Led by Dickey, but clearly in benevolent leader mode, the free improvisational quartet with Rob Brown, Mat Maneri and formidable young bassist Brandon Lopez has cooked up an unusually empathetic gem in the realm of the free. Conversational delicacy and an appreciation of space give the musical flow a sense of narrative-on-the-spot storytelling. Listening is obviously a high priority, as the players tread the fine line between responding to a musical moment and creating new ones.

Beyond the salient matters of nuanced dynamics and creating separate identities for each of the five discrete pieces, textural balance is another important key to success here. With Dickey’s subtle drum work as a flexible, breathing foundation, connections and kinships develop between Brown’s melody-inclined alto sax lines and Maneri’s viola assertions, and the variations between Lopez’s purposefully ambling pizzicato and overtone-enriched arco parts. Bowed sonorities between Lopez and Maneri form fleeting bonds, as do the revisited rhythm-section linkage of bass and drums.