Other Dimensions in Music don’t record or perform nearly as often as they should. The fully improvising quartet, composed of trumpeter Roy Campbell, saxophonist Daniel Carter, bassist William Parker and drummer Charles Downs (on their 2007 double live CD Live at the Sunset, recorded in Paris, Hamid Drake subbed in for Downs), only has five releases to its name, including this one. Kaiso Stories (buy it from Amazon) marks the group’s return to the Silkheart label, for which they recorded their self-titled debut way back in 1989. They later released two albums for AUM Fidelity—1997’s Now! and 2000’s Time is of the Essence; The Essence is Beyond Time, the latter a live collaboration with Matthew Shipp—and Live at the Sunset was released on the French Marge label. Very little has been heard of the group in the last four or five years, so this release comes as something of a very pleasant surprise.
Three of the group’s four members—Campbell, Parker and Downs—began working together as members of Jemeel Moondoc‘s group Muntu. Three different versions of Muntu—the quartet, a Moondoc/Parker/Downs trio, and a quintet featuring pianist Mark Hennen and trumpeter Arthur Williams, can be heard on the three-CD set Muntu Recordings, released last year by the Lithuanian NoBusiness label. Unfortunately, the group dissolved in the early 1980s when Cecil Taylor “borrowed” Parker and Downs for his group (they can be heard on his albums The Eighth and Nicaragua No Pasaran).
Other Dimensions’ debut album, recorded in the studio, is somewhat stiff and lacks the fluidity of their later work, but it’s an extremely lyrical, melodic and groove-based effort that may surprise listeners coming in expecting blare. Now!, the group’s hands-down masterpiece, takes the melodic sense and enthusiasm for pure beauty that was already present on the debut and ramps it up a thousandfold. Campbell and Carter dance delicately around each other, weaving ribbons of light with their horns as Parker and Downs alternately swing, groove and throb. Whether cantering forward or swaying through a mournful ballad, Other Dimensions always seems to balance a dreamlike Zen calm with a quality of intense collective listening—no one is using his bandmates as a mere springboard or platform upon which to showboat. It’s all about the group sound, at all times. Time is of the Essence, on which Shipp joins them, is more conventionally “free jazz,” the piano anchoring the improvisation in ways that are sometimes rewarding and sometimes not, and on Live at the Sunset, the band explores groove more explicitly, because that’s Hamid Drake’s forte. He’s a hard-swinging drummer who likes a backbeat, where Downs has a much lighter touch and a more abstract sense of time.
Kaiso Stories finds the quartet backing vocalist Fay Victor on a series of improvised pieces to which she sets classic calypso lyrics. Some of the songs date back as far as the 1930s. Victor’s voice is similar to other out-jazz vocalists (Linda Sharrock, Jeanne Lee), but without many of the ululations and howls those singers indulged in, and her accent is thick, whether it’s put on for the material or like that all the time (this is my first experience with her work). Ultimately, it’s the voice of an old woman; she chants more than she sings, and honestly, as a young(ish), white listener with little or no knowledge of calypso music or the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, I’m somewhat put in mind of a voodoo woman in some kitschy horror movie, especially when the lyrics start to be about Shango.
The music is typical ODIM, gently pulsing, with Parker rocking endless swinging grooves and Downs tapping the cymbals as Campbell and Carter trade ideas back and forth. There are no truly obstreperous passages, but plenty of beautiful moments. The tracks are mostly long, anywhere between seven and 15 minutes, so while Victor’s lyrics take precedence early on each time, everybody gets room to stretch out by the end. The disc is nearly 75 minutes long, all told. Don’t let the vocals put you off, as they did me. It took me four or five tries to break the surface tension and get inside the music. But now I can see myself returning to this album with some frequency. If you’ve liked Other Dimensions in Music’s previous work, you’ll like Kaiso Stories.