Dice Factory - Self Titled [Babel - 2012]Dice Factory is a quartet of tenor saxophone, piano, string bass and drums that plays extremely technical jazz fusion. Their self titled is a very long and very ambitious album, and a showcase of extraordinary musicianship. There are 10 songs, mostly between 5 and 9 minute in length.
The band's interplay is not only impeccably tight but also innovative, unconventional at every turn. Though they play effortlessly, and with a light touch, there is an absurd quantity of notes and time changes, indeed more than would generally be considered humanly possible. The dense compositions never sit still, with many separate sections, and scalar exhalations from the piano and sax that last for minutes on end, virtuosic in their fluidity. Through the use of uncountably odd meters, they create a never before heard groove. The drummer's use of ghost notes and snare accents creates a pulse that is organic and alive.
It can be overwhelming for the brain to process, yet the chord structures are always surprisingly clear. For all the fractured syncopations of their rhythms, which recall the playful and disjointed music of Ruins, they never stray from melodicism or consonance. There is a maddening logic to the compositions, they simply move too fast for it to be grasped entirely upon first listening.
There are some truly jawdropping, mind stretching moments here, such as the labyrinthine head of "You're Lucky". Struggling to absorb it, I felt like I did hearing the great Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy songs for the first time, initially unsure whether what I was hearing was improvisation or composition for its sheer strangeness, and eventually realizing this bizarre and elaborate melody was the central one in the piece!
"Gooch" gets my attention immediately with a stilted metallic rhythm from what sounds like a prepared piano. Later, there is a complimentary melody, formed from spiralling offbeat arpeggi played in unison by the sax and bass. Generally, these shorter 5 minute pieces feel more complete and less gratuitous than the longer epics.
The piano player has a pleasantly smooth but overly rounded tone, and stays at a single dynamic level for most of the album. He prefers dreamy, impressionistic chords as per Debussy, and I hear an echo of McCoy Tyner watery percolations, as well. He doesn't stray far from a cerebral, introspective feeling.
The drummer similarly tends to play softly, and the music unfortunately takes on an overall unchanging softness, despite the abundance of unpredictable figures. This is the album's lone weakness: the flurry of notes could have felt more meaningful if the band learned to really play out once in a while.
In conclusion, this is a masterful album of musician's music, technically accomplished highbrow jazz. If that's not your cup of tea, and you can't see why musicians should indulge in such complexities, you'll find this album as passionless and masturbatory as the rest. However, if you have an ear trained for such things, you'll see "Dice Factory" for the smartly composed, tonally organized, forward thinking gem it is.Josh Landry