John Dikeman is an American saxophonist living in Amsterdam, who plays barefoot and often invites comparison with Peter Brötzmann, which can be a backhanded compliment. A recent clutch of albums all demonstrate that, while he’s clearly chasing an accommodation with Brötzmann’s legacy and influence, he’s no copycat, being too versatile and tuneful to swallow the rather cartoonish idea of Brötzmannian Machine Gun machismo that does neither artist any favours.
Of the three albums I’m reviewing, Live at La Resistenza (reviewed here) makes that point best, teaming Dikeman as it does with two of Brötzmann’s longstanding collaborators to rather ebullient effect. This pair, recorded back-to-back, are more abrasive, exploratory and original.
Where Cactus Truck – Dikeman’s trio with Jasper Stadhouders and Onno Govaert – plays free jazz with a hardcore influence, Dikeman Noble Serries Trio plays an arthouse variation on the same conceit that takes it closer to drummer Steve Noble’s past work with Æthenor. Their Obscure Fluctuations (Trost Records) was recorded in a single 2.5 hour studio session in April 2015.
There’s a point, after an initial squall of overblown sax and all-round intensity fifteen minutes into the first of the album’s two twenty-three-minute cuts, “From Assent to Refusal”, where Dikeman falls silent and Noble expertly turns the gas down to expose Dirk Serries’ rubbed-up wisps and feedback-barbed whips of electric guitar, then rejoins with a new, subtly tribal rhythmic emphasis. Dikeman’s fluid, responsive solo in turn prompts a heated but controlled climax. So far, so alt-orthodox.
“The Heart Strips Bare” is more arresting, founded as it is on a grimy, lustral shimmer of soft-scraped contact sounds. Serries’ guitar is the dominant source, but Dikeman’s sensitive breath control and Noble’s expert play of brushes and skin on skins both extend and, by subtle degrees, expand the soundfield. As the smouldering intensifies, Dikeman tempers muted frictions with soft burred exhalations, combining with Serries’ discomfiting abrasions and Noble’s near-subliminal contributions into an oddly particulate drone. Ultimately this concentration of sonics is all burned off in a sudden irruption of agitation, Dikeman’s sax the blue flame of complete combustion. Two such contrasting yet complimentary performances make for an excellent package.
The occasion of Serries’ rare London pass-through also yielded the continuous 32:28 improvisation documented by Dikeman Serries Lisle Webster – Live at Cafe Oto (Raw Tonk), recorded 1 April 2015, the night before the Obscure Fluctuations session.
Dikeman and drummer Andrew Lisle get things underway with fiery but measured depth-sounding, then Serries clanks metallically into gear just before Colin Webster’s guttural Baritone sax begins to thicken the brew. But a change of mood after only five minutes leaves just the soft, continuous vibratory sound of twinned saxes and thin, contractile threads of metallic guitar; a sound not dissimilar to the textual assiduity of “The Heart Strips Bare”.
By 12:52 we’re back to inharmonic, abrasive braying, Lisle imposing a semblance of order with clipped beats. The quartet risk tipping into outright ruckus, but shortly, suddenly, transmute tensions in another breakdown, each taking it in turn to prod and probe at a central well of silence. Then they test each other’s mettle in a standoff ’til the two horns lock, Webster blowing fit to drown out Dikeman’s sour drizzling, but not succeeding: the Cactus Trucker signals that the endgame is nigh with throaty exhortations begetting another loosely combative interlude and a final passage of barbed free-form improv, a four-way of rasping and chafing. Webster is last man standing, taking the set out with a coda of imposingly deep vibrations.
As with Obscure Fluctuations, much of the power of the quartet set stems as much from collective clout held in abeyance as in it does in unleashed testifying. All in all, quite a contrast to the irrepressible music Dikeman made with Drake and Parker (reviewed here).
Obscure Fluctuations: John Dikeman tenor saxophone; Steve Noble drums; Dirk Serries electric guitar.
Live at Cafe Oto: John Dikeman tenor saxophone; Dirk Serries electric guitar; Andrew Lisle drums; Colin Webster baritone saxophone.
John Dikeman, William Parker, Hamid Drake – Live at La Resistenza.
Cactus Truck – Seizures Palace.
DunningWebsterUnderwood – Bleed.
Stefan Keune / Dominic Lash / Steve Noble – Fractions.