The new quartet of American master double bass player Michael Bisio Quartet features like-minded, gifted improvisers – violist Mat Maneri, octogenarian vibes player Karl Berger and drummer Whit Dickey (who runs the Tao Forms label). Its uncommon instrumentation reflects a transparent quality and sonic clarity as well as a wish to focus on ensemble consciousness and aesthetics. Bisio is known for his ongoing collaborations with great multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee and with Berger and his 13-year membership in the Matthew Shipp Trio. Bisio wrote five pieces for the debut album of the new quartet «MBefore», Berger added another two, and the quartet offers a free-minded take on the standard «I Fall in Love Too Easily» plus one free improvisation. The album was recorded at Clubhouse Studio in Rhinebec, New York in March 2021.
The clarity and transparency of this ensemble’s democratic aesthetics allow the contrapuntal quality of the music to shine and color beautifully the subtle harmonies. Shipp, who wrote the liner notes, observed that «MBefore» «was created by people who gave themselves over to the concept and reveled in the generation of beautiful sound». And as Shipp commented, Bisio knows how to set strong yet open and relaxed group dynamics, submerging the egos to the benefit of the collective, overall sound. He always pushes the music forward with an organic sense of form and pulse. Likewise, Berger is a master of space and restraint. Maneri has a perfect instinct for counterpoint and can complement any idea without dominating the interplay. Dickey is a great colorist and natural painter and never impose any cliché upon the music. You can sense this kind of organic dynamics throughout the free-flowing music.
And another wise and insightful observation by Shipp about the egoless, collective quality and importance of the tone for this ensemble. «In some ways, the gestalt of the group sound ends up being the composition per se – and the sound can then be delegated to different sub-entities and compositional generators». You can feel this approach on the playful, post-bop «Crystal Fire», the poetic touch-and-go play with the theme of «I Fall in Love Too Easily», the heartfelt «r.henry», dedicated to American painter Robert Henry or the impressionistic «Still». Clearly, with such great and natural improvisers who have nothing to prove, surrendering to Bisio’s most humane concept, «MBefore» is a beautiful statement.
Michael Bisio (b), Karl Berger (vib), Mat Maneri (viola), Whit Dickey (dr)