Street Date: October 20th, 2017
“Earthshine”, released on ears&eyes Records, is performed and presented by innovative Chicago-based guitarist Dan Bruce's beta collective. This ensemble exhibits the versatility, creativity and prowess of some of Chicago’s finest improvisers on today’s jazz scene. With Russ Johnson on trumpet, Chris Madsen on tenor saxophone, Rob Clearfield on piano/fender rhodes, Clark Sommers on bass and Jon Deitemyer on drums, the beguiling Dan Bruce is excited to present this project which highlights the relationship between order and chaos, and the importance of truly accepting both in one moment.
With the thematic focus of order and chaos at the forefront, Bruce explains that “Earthshine” showcases the “significance of entwining deftly composed music with free improvisation, while constantly incorporating expansive and driving grooves.” As the term “earthshine” refers to the glow caused by sunlight reflected off the earth, Bruce explains that, for him, looking up at the moon once a day is an easy way to remember his place and to stay grounded and in the moment. The bandleader makes a conscious effort to know his surroundings and point his creative compass in the right direction. However, he also has a particularly strong ability to accept chaos, or rather moments of improvisation, when they happen and when they work.
“So when I am fortunate to make music with people on the level of this group, I can just tell myself ‘look up and remember you are not in control’.”
From the outset the title track invokes the feeling, which Bruce refers to as a spiritual experience, of standing alone in a vast open landscape. “I’ve been lucky to experience a number of breathtaking places on Earth, whether in Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, Africa, Canada, or the American West. Standing in these places I am always deeply impacted by the dual feelings of insignificance and joyous gratitude.” In the piece, meandering melodic phrases overlap into each other, masking cadences and creating a feeling of searching and longing. This builds and eventually culminates in a meditative rhythmic vamp with traces of Arabic traditional music.
“Ice no.2” is dedicated to the artwork of Gerhard Richter. His series of four paintings titled Ice is in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. Bruce explains, “When I first sat in the room with these paintings I was brought to tears. Richter uses layers and motion in the paintings to give us glimpses of vibrant colors coming through the top layer of stillness and cold. For me, the pairing of the nylon string guitar and Fender Rhodes achieves a similar effect. The two instruments have very different timbres, but go together beautifully.” Bruce’s guitar sets the tone in this piece with a repeated rhythmic motive, and Clearfield’s casual melody line breaks through that texture.
Not every piece has such a profound back-story. “Sofa” is a haunting track that invokes a trance-like, semi-conscious, lethargic state of being and is dedicated to a wonderful couch that Dan and his wife once owned.
Dan’s debut album as a leader, “A Single Thread” was released to critical acclaim in 2007, with Martin Gladu of All About Jazz noting that the album “…combines his learned guitar work, which is at times reminiscent of Ben Monder, with substantive yet airy, contemporary sounding compositions.” Ten years later, this highly-anticipated new project, with the help of a melting pot of musicians, opens an exciting new chapter in Bruce’s career as a writer and guitarist. Dan assembled this particular ensemble knowing that each member would bring the risk, immediacy and spontaneity that was crucial to “Earthshine”’s core hallmark. Throughout the composition, arrangement and recording of “Earthshine”, Bruce made a conscious decision to approach the project as a composer first and guitarist second. The pieces are written to utilize the various textures available within the sextet instrumentation, and a number of the pieces were written to highlight specific group members. Although listeners will hear a good deal of his guitar playing on the album, the overall sound as a group is of paramount importance to Bruce. His principal goal as a composer is to “get out of his own way, take himself out of the driver’s seat and see what happens”. With this compositional approach and the incredible lineup, “Earthshine” achieves a staggering range of texture and impressive variety of orchestration, while maintaining a steady and relatable lyricism throughout.
"Dan’s jazz guitar on this brilliant October 2017 release is in exploratory mode, no doubt… he and his players (Russ Johnson: trumpet; Chris Madsen: tenor saxophone; Rob Clearfield: piano, Fender Rhodes; Clark Sommers: bass; Jon Deitemyer: drums) pull out all the stops to entertain your ears." Read the full feature here.
"Bruce smartly eschews overcomplicated procedures on Earthshine. He rather plays slick and tight, punching out inviting textures with an irresistible flexibility." Read the full review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"It's not just the tight rapport and strong solos that give this album its distinctive flavor. Bruce's willingness to open up the music in unexpected ways allows "Major_Chord" to transition from bouncy swing to an unstructured section in which Madsen and Johnson can engage in a free exchange of ideas, before the rest of the band re-enters and Bruce spurs the two to even greater heights with some gritty interjections of his own." Read the full 4 star review here.
“The consistently amazing chops on display will dazzle any adventurous ear.” Read the full feature here.
"This is a group that can both dial it down and ramp it up, though such shifts in dynamics never happen abruptly or awkwardly. Throughout this fine recording, the beta collective functions as a smoothly operating unit that adjusts itself according to the music's demands." Check out the full review here.