When Deric Dickens emailed me about Speed Date, I was hooked on the premise alone. When he began listing off some of his collaborators, I was fully in at that point.
Here’s what I learned about the album before I sat down to listen to it.
- Dickens wanted to record with some of his New York City musician friends.
- He wanted the album to be predominately free, but to also base some of the music around Ornette Coleman- and Don Cherry-inspired melodies he’d been writing.
- He wanted to keep things short. Nothing over ten minutes, preferably far less.
- He wanted to impose a restraint. As a result, it gave the album a great hook (more on that shortly).
This is what I love about the creative process. Artists who have worked together previously, recognize that they shed in the same peapod, and they decide to record an album that allows complete artistic freedom as long as they abide by a nifty hook/restraint.
Your hook for this album is the stopwatch. On six of the album’s twenty tracks, a stopwatch was set to expire at just under a minute fifteen seconds, and when that timer went off, that was the end of the tune. In fact, on title-track “Speed Date,” the timer alarm is audible at the end of the track, something I’m glad Dickens left on the finished recording… it’s just more proof of the good cheer of this album’s origins. No track is less than a minute twenty in duration, and only one track exceeds five minutes in length (the seven and a half minute tune “Swing It Sista,” with Jeremy Udden).
In many ways, this is a ridiculous challenge set to the musicians. They’re required to sit down, aware of the time constraint under which they must suss that creativity out, and then they’ve got that stopwatch staring at them. To my mind, the reasonable reaction to that scenario is to laugh.
Here’s what my assumption was about the music before I sat down to listen to it:
- This was going to be fun music. Challenging, probably, but in the spirit of fun.
I was right.
Your album personnel: Deric Dickens (drums, percussion), with guests: Jeremy Udden (alto & C-melody sax), Jon Crowley (trumpet), Ben Cohen (tenor sax), Kirk Knuffke (coronet), Jeff Lederer (tenor sax, clarinet), Matt Wilson (drums, wooden flute, Marks Mark Bottle).
All of the tracks are duos between Dickens and a guest musician. Six guests in all, they each participate on three tracks total, except for Wilson and Knuffke, who participate on four tracks each. While Speed Date does have a remarkable cohesion considering its sizable guest roster, it’s also noticeable how each guest artist is able to give voice to their specific sound on their respective tracks, and the consistency of that sound across the span of their contributions.
On trumpet, Jon Crowley generates an energetic bounce throughout. Sometimes it’s a buoyant march, sometimes it’s a sadistic hopscotch, hitting notes that don’t seem to make sense in the moment, but perpetually sounding to land right where they were supposed to (Dickens sounds like he’s played this game before).
On alto and C-melody sax, Jeremy Udden provides his familiar lazy Sunday afternoon sway. Dickens sounds right at home matching Udden’s easy breeze pace.
Ben Cohen’s first contribution on tenor sax is about as straight-ahead jazz as it gets on this album, but the other two tracks he blows on possess a plaintive lighthouse moan, and Dickens colors it with percussion like the sounds of a pier, as the sea gently laps against it.
Jeff Lederer is tough to nail down. Whether on tenor sax or clarinet, he is shadowboxing personified. Sometimes circles Dickens’ rhythms, sometimes he creates squiggly lines that Dickens playfully tries to nail down, and sometimes they trade spastic bursts of sound.
Three of Kirk Knuffke‘s four contributions have plenty of fight to them. Shooting out sharp notes on cornet, sometimes definitive statements, sometimes inquisitive challenges. On his fourth and final track, Knuffke sounds to be done with all the provocation, and he and Dickens have an amicable conversation on their instruments.
Drummer Matt Wilson, who aided Dickens in the planning of this album, has four enjoyable tracks, either doubling up on drums or playing a wooden flute, giving an intriguingly rustic haze to Dickens’ free jazz bursts of rhythm. On “Termites,” the duo utilizes a full bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon. Once the bottle became less full, Wilson uses it as a wind instrument while Dickens mans the drums.
Taken as a whole, the album is to appreciated as much as a creative experiment as a music listening experience. For musicians to embrace a fun, exciting challenge, and then endow the music with those same qualities, that’s the kind of thing we should want from our artists… to take chances, to produce creative pieces of quality, and for it spring from some kind of emotional basis that elevates the piece from simple craft to inspirational art.
This one came from a place of good humor. Speed Date communicates that loud and clear.
Released in 2011 on Mole-Tree Music, which appears to be Dickens’ own label.
Jazz from NYC.
There’s a nice interview of Deric Dickens by jazz interviewer extraordinaire Jason Crane on Crane’s site, The Jazz Session.
You can stream the album, and purchase it, on Dickens’ Bandcamp page. There’s also a link on the Bandcamp page to purchase the physical CD, too.