Michaël Attias – Nerve Dance (Clean Feed)
On his latest album, Nerve Dance, alto saxophonist Michaël Attias seeks a balance between freedom and structure, concept and emotion. And he’s got a new quartet to help him: Pianist Aruán Ortiz, bassist John Hébert, and drummer Nasheet Waits are well suited to handle Attias’ advanced ideas.
Sometimes, Attias’ designs result in a rigidity that’s difficult to fully embrace. On “Dark Net,” Hébert’s bass lines mirror the melody on top of Waits’ jagged rhythm. The piece twists and folds in several directions, but doesn’t leave much room to breathe. The bipartite “Nerve and Limbo” begins as an exercise in variable meters and harmonies, punctuated by Ortiz’s bursts of modernist Latin jazz phrases. It then gives way to a languid, hazy section inspired by the late pianist Masabumi Kikuchi. After all the density that preceded it, it’s no shock that the “Limbo” section is the more effective of the two.
There’s also a grand design at work. “Boca de Luna,” a brief sketch in which Attias accompanies himself on piano, serves as an introduction to the ballad “Moonmouth.” And the two sections of “Nerve and Limbo” are later reflected in “Le Pèse-Nerfs” and “Ombilique,” respectively.
The best moments come when the group has room to stretch out. While the 17/8 meter and Ortiz’s fully notated lines create a firm structure on “Moonmouth,” those elements serve as a wonderful tension underneath the beautiful melodic lines that Attias unfolds. The Ornette Coleman tribute “Dream in a Mirror” beautifully evokes a dreamlike effect over the course of its nearly 10-minute journey. And the relaxed “Rodger Lodge,” one of two pieces penned by Hébert, provides ample room for Attias’ gliding phrases and Ortiz’s graceful explorations.
Ultimately, the war between the head and the heart often feels one-sided in favor of the cerebral. But the moments when Attias achieves the right balance are something special.
—John Frederick Moore