Anyone Is Better Than Here
Jeremy Dutton is a drummer and composer making his bandleader debut with Anyone Is Better Than Here. We’ve come to know Dutton as a vital force behind leading contemporary jazz artists on Blue Note. Specifically, the Houston born, New York based drummer was the timekeeper on vibraphonist Joel Ross’ Kingmaker and Who Are You? and pianist James Francies’ Flight and Purest Form. So, Dutton reciprocates by inviting both along with saxophonist Ben Wendel, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, guitarist Mike Moreno, and bassist Matt Brewer and Daryl Johns as collaborators. Jasper Dutz plays bass clarinet on “Dream.” Dutton’s notion here is to shed idealism for acceptance, said another way – one can’t change who they are but should be willing to change perspectives. These Daoist philosophies are threads that run through the tracks, a narrative that Dutton began composing during the pandemic, only to extend it later.
In regard to the elite personnel, only Francies and Dutton play on all tracks, the former sticking with the acoustic piano throughout. The two bassists alternate, and the others appear on certain tracks as we’ll describe. “Opening Credits” commences the program with an ethereal sound led by Wendel’s saxophone and Ross’s vibes echoing in undulating sound waves, which is coincidentally the title of the next tune which has a pared down quartet led by Akinmusire. That title may indeed stem from Stefon Harris’ quote on Dutton’s hallmark compositional and performance style: “You guys have this way of playing where it’s like a wave … you have to get on the wave, or you get swept under it.” While ‘undulating” conjures gentle swells, Akinmusire brings more of the surfer’s high cresting thunderous breakers to mind.
“Mirrors” represents the first of seven appearances of guitarist Moreno, who together with Wendel, leads us into the mysterious “Mirrors,” each at times refracting the notes of the other in concert with the title. Moreno’s resonating guitar tones are gorgeous, one indication, when combined with piano, vibes, and either horn, of how highly textured and harmonically rich these sounds are throughout the album. “Shores” features the same cast sans Ross in a more aggressive, vigorous approach. Francies begins “Vulnerable” with a few tinkering notes as the leader begins to craft a rhythm that soon has Wendel and Moreno tiptoeing in, only to have Francies launch a signature rapid run solo, that then hands the baton back to them. Brewer’s bass intro ignites “Unfolding,’ a feature for Wendel’s soprano saxophone and a series of discordant chords from Francies and Moreno, eventually making way for Ross, as Dutton is a whirlwind his kit – (one where one could clearly be swept under the wave).
“Shifts” offers more stunning sounds from Wendel’s echoing soprano, ethereal textures from Ross, and yet another example of how to remain free on the drum kit while still steering the ship. “Dream” takes us in a plodding, deliberate melancholic direction as Ross, Moreno, and Wendel sit out in favor of Akinmusire’s brooding trumpet countered by Dutz’s bass clarinet. The three absentees return for a lively turn on “Frenzy” which precedes the standout “Truman (reborn)”, Dutton indicates that the piece is about the strength that is required to choose an uncertain path. The title for the piece recalls back to the 1998 Jim Carrey dystopian drama-comedy “The Truman Show”, in which Carrey’s character slowly realizes that he is living within a fabricated existence and that he must escape to find something real even though that path is unknown to him. Wendel especially shines here. Dutton’s compositions are fully developed soundscapes that rely on the interplay of the full ensemble rather than a conventional swinging sequence of head-solo-solo-solo-head. In that vein we have “The Mother,” another that traces directly to Daoist philosophies Dutton aims to capture in these compositions – encapsulating the idea of the mother as the matriarch of the universe and of all things. Dutton navigates the superb ensemble of Wendel, Moreno, Ross, Francies, and Brewer as they glide, rather than attack, both “Mother” and the “Closing Sequence” with Ross taking a brilliant solo on the former.
It just seems so cliché to say auspicious debut. Let’s just say this is just the kind of transportive music you’d expect from Dutton, given his contributions to albums from kindred spirits Ross and Francies.
- Jim Hynes
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