Saxophonist, composer and music educator Dave Pietro convenes a septet for Hypersphere. Pietro explores themes of love, interconnectedness, truth and prayer on its eight tracks. Alongside Pietro are top shelf musicians including Alex Sipiagin on trumpet and flugelhorn, Ryan Keberle on trombone, Gary Versace on piano and organ, Johannes Weidenmueller on bass, Johnathan Blake on drums and Rogerio Boccato on percussion. Note that Pietro, Keberle, Versace, and Blake are all integral member of Maria Schneider’s Jazz Orchestra which just released an incredible double album, Data Lords, two weeks ago.
The album’s title, with music written over the past few years, refers to the multiple spheres of our lives that humans must juggle at once, leaving us ultimately feeling unsettled, stressed and unfulfilled because we are pulled in so many different directions. Pietro says, commenting on our recent state, in his liner notes written in April 2020, “The experience of living in quarantine, slowing down and simplifying my life, has made the message of this CD that much more meaningful to me…The music of this CD addresses some of the life dimensions that all of us must negotiate during our time here on this sphere called Earth.”
“Kakistocracy,” with its ominous opening chords contemplates the social structures that we must live under, particularly our government, and the 24-hour cable news din that accompanies it. This ensemble piece features stellar solos from the bandleader leading into trombonist Ryan Keberle whose expressive tones soar over the rhythm section’s unshakable groove with tight comping from pianist Versace. Drummer Johnathan Blake exhibits stunning interplay behind the soloists on this piece and takes the final turn inventively.
“Boulder Snowfall,” as the title peacefully suggests, is more reflective, again introduced with tight ensemble playing before the leader takes flight on alto. When the ensemble rejoins, they create an image of a steady snowfall with the motif, leading to an initially quiet piano break from Versace that builds with improvisation. The keyboardist then begins “Gina” alone on the B3 leading into horns in counterpoint. We hear Weidenmueller articulate a lyrical bass solo leading up to Petro’s emotive passage as the bassist uses the bow to underscore the statement. The tune is dedicated to Pietro’s wife as an expression of love and devotion.
The title track “Hypersphere,” true to its title is complex and uneven with shifting time signatures and tonal centers on which the soloists gracefully traverse, symbolizing the human effort to find a groove and flow in our lives over an ever-changing landscape. Trumpeter Alex Sipiagin steps forward emphatically, followed by Pietro’s masterful excursion, again with Blake setting the course and making his own declaration.
“Incandescent” is the composer’s personal homage to Maurice Ravel. Listeners will denote shades of Ravel’s beautiful impressionistic musings in this celebration of the great 19th and early 20th century French composer. Rogerio Boccato’s percussion-work adorns the track, heightening the intensity and dynamics of the ensemble. “Quantum Entanglement” refers to the independence of all things as Pietro delivers his most extended solo and Versace alternates between Fender Rhodes and piano, with shimmering runs on the latter.
“Tales of Mendacity” reflects upon the search for truth and, more specifically, the power of our voices to raise people up or tear them down. Stinging statements from Pietro on clarinet and Sipiagin on trumpet mingle with the ensemble parts as Versace comps on Rhodes. The album’s final track “Orison”, which is an archaic word for prayer, opens up with a beautiful, contemplative bass solo from veteran bassist Weidenmueller before we’re bathed in the ensemble horns who make way first for Keberle’s poignant dialogue supported by Sipiagin with Pietro joining the lively conversation. As mentioned in the opening, these are seasoned ensemble players, many with large orchestra pedigrees, as aspect that come through frequently throughout.
Dave Pietro has created a powerful rumination on the human experience in a time of complexity and unrest with exceptional writing and strong contributions from his hand-picked septet.
- Jim Hynes