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For The Record

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Alex Dugdale
The Dugout
SELF-RELEASED (2021)

BY PAUL RAUCH

Alex Dugdale has graced the Seattle jazz landscape for some time now, firmly establishing his artistry through live performances with his Fade Quintet, and in manning the baritone chair in the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra. The same question has followed him, whether from patrons attending one of his residency performances at the now-shuttered Tula’s, or at after concert receptions at SRJO. “Alex, when are you going to record?”

The Dugout at last answers that pervasive question, with the same energy as those many live performances. The music is essentially crisp, swinging hard bop. There are no mysteries here. The ebullient saxophonist/tap artist puts everything right up front in smackdown fashion, while at the same time, employing the direct exploration of beauty in ballad form as well. 

The seven tunes are all penned by Dugdale, and performed by his long-time trumpetless quintet featuring Cole Schuster (guitar), Greg Feingold (bass), Max Holmberg (drums), and John Hansen (piano). Dugdale contributes on tenor and alto saxophones, and with his feet, of course.

It is quite possible that Dugdale is more recognizable around town as a tap artist, than as a saxophonist, largely due to his annual tap performance as part of SRJO’s Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music production. His composition “Ti Fortu,” is an open canvas for his interpretive dance form, in direct duo conversation with Holmberg.

However, before the listener is treated to his tap artistry, there are many bop tenets to explore first. Dugdale’s style of hard bop tenor is more rooted in Coleman Hawkins than Sonny Stitt, as amply displayed on the album’s opener, “Soul Balls.” He turns melancholic for the ballad, “When Skies Turn.” Schuster opens with a gorgeous two- minute interlude, followed by Dugdale’s romantically charged tenor. His beatific approach to ballads is again, very reminiscent of pre-bop tenor, colored with Ellington-esque images. He shifts to alto for the title track in the same heart pounding fashion that he approaches tenor. His triadic skill set is completed, with tenor, alto, and tap all shedding light on Dugdale’s unique artistic makeup. 
The Dugout features a saxophone and guitar front line that is becoming more common on the current jazz scene nationally. The quintet as a whole bears traits of their long-time association. For fans of Dugdale, at least for now, that frequently asked question is finally answered. 

Koi: Performing the music of Tim Berne
Greg Belisle-Chi
RELATIVE PITCH RECORDS (2021)

BY GREG SCHEIDERER

The latest album from guitarist Gregg Belisle-Chi, Koi: Performing the music of Tim Berne, is earning rave reviews from a group that may well be the most qualified to serve up such a judgement: the avant-garde saxophonist and composer himself along with a host of notable guitar players.

Belisle-Chi discovered Berne’s music more than a decade ago while working on a music degree at Cornish College of the Arts and had long hoped to do a collaboration. His challenge was translating Berne’s compositions from sax into guitar, much as pianist Matt Mitchell had done for Berne’s album førage in 2017. Belisle-Chi recalls of the journey,

I remember hearing førage and thinking to myself, ‘Goddam, wouldn’t it be amazing if a guitar player did this, too?’ I didn’t expect that guitarist to be me, but with Tim’s blessing and guidance, we were able to make it happen, and I think it turned out extremely well.

Other artists agree. Bill Frisell, who recorded with Berne in the early ‘80s, is captivated. “For anyone familiar with Tim’s music, this is a fascinating opportunity to check it out from a different angle,” said Frisell, who met Belisle-Chi when both were living in Seattle. “What struck me upon first hearing him, aside from the fact that he played his ass off, was his lack of affectation. There was no mimicry. Instead, there was transparency—letting the music speak. That’s what’s happening with Koi…Gregg and Tim together have raised the bar. This music knocks me out.”

Nels Cline, who recently recorded and toured with Berne, said after hearing the Mitchell album that he figured a guitarist would inevitably take on Tim’s work. “Nothing could’ve prepared me for this jaw-dropping solo acoustic-guitar recording. Masterful and visionary, this has instantly become one of my favorite solo guitar documents.”

Berne describes what he calls a “funhouse-mirror effect” when hearing new interpretations of his compositions: 

These are musicians who have such ability, personality, and imagination. The way Gregg voices the chords is so crystal clear, so much detail comes through. His sound on guitar reveals every inch of the music. A composer couldn’t hope for more, really.

Koi was produced by Berne and David Torn and released on Relative Pitch Records earlier this year.

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December 2, 2021

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