By Bradley Bambarger | Published March 2019
In his heady liner notes for Dialectical Imagination, drummer Rob Pumpelly explores the idea of achieving “aesthetic ecstasy” in music. The aim in this being to blur the boundaries between composition and improvisation by transcending “conventional self-awareness.” The drummer’s particular vehicle for going into what many other performers would call “the zone” is Dialectical Imagination, a duet with pianist Eli Wallace. The pair’s third album, begins with ritualistic chimes, directly invoking John Coltrane and Rashied Ali’s Interstellar Space.
From those scene-setting chimes, opener “Immutable Light” undulates with waves of piano and shimmering cymbal work; the piano drops out in the middle for the rumble of an extended drum solo. It’s a gorgeous track, but the music gets progressively volatile from there. “Vanished” showcases Wallace at his best, blending rhythmic intensity with innate lyricism; the final quarter of the piece is like a post-storm sunburst of melody. “Rung” begins with ruminatively spinning piano and kindred-spirit drumming, though the piece eventually takes off into a rhythmic/textural vortex for much of its length. And album closer “Infusion” immediately explodes with a dense, crashing energy redolent of Cecil Taylor, though, there are recurring piano and drum hooks that draw listeners through the track.
The record’s holistic blend of composition and improvisation, melody and rhythm, volatility and inwardness plays well on repeat, conjuring an atmosphere increasingly easy to give oneself over to.
Dialectical Imagination: Immutable Light; Vanished; Rungs; Infusion. (41:49)
Personnel: Eli Wallace, piano; Rob Pumpelly, drums.