Slow Music for a Fast Food World
Kait Dunton must know what she's doing. Either that, or she's ever-so-slightly out of her mind. Because here she is -- amid of the clutter and noise of the internet age -- whispering.
Mountain Suite, the mesmerizing new album from the LA-based composer and pianist, never raises its voice, never prances or preens, never grabs your collar and demands your attention. Instead, it quietly invites you into its world for a long, engaging, and ultimately moving stay.
"Frolic," live recording. Kait Dunton, piano; Darek "Oles" Oleszkiewicz, bass; Peter Erskine, drums.
Mountain Suite began to come together when Dunton attended a workshop at the Banff art center in the Canadian Rockies. While she was there, she told me a few weeks ago, she began to write pieces that were "more adventurous, without an obvious form." Over the next few years, some of the tunes "kept hanging around." As Dunton worked with them, she realized that they formed "part of an arc," and she decided to complete it with newer pieces, "keeping the concept in mind."
The concept -- that arc -- is a journey, an abstract journey that for Dunton has both physical and emotional associations. It connects the glorious mountain scenery of Banff and to journeys of the mind and the heart.
Dunton emphasizes that Mountain Suite is very much a suite -- a series of related short compositions that are meant to be heard as a whole. She says that the various movements reflect the stages of a journey -- its excited, yet apprehensive beginning, its moments of enchantment and jubilation, its disappointments and confusion, and, in this particular case, its triumphant revelations and quiet return. To my ears, the suite is an inward journey, and a deeply emotional one, at that.
"Day One," live recording. Same performers.
Dunton is still in her twenties, but there's no doubt that she's already developed a distinctive compostitional voice. Her style mixes angularity with emotion, and rhythmic complexity with melodic grace. Even though she's already released a debut album -- 2008's Real & Imagined -- Mountain Suite is her real coming out party as a composer.
As you've gathered from the videos, Dunton is working with a number of collaborators on this album. The two that appear in the videos are drummer, Peter Erskine, and bassist Darek "Oles" Oleszkiewicz. On the album, as in the videos, the interplay between piano, bass, and drums is marvelous to behold.
Dunton's piano playing on Mountain Suite, even at its most exuberant, has a serene quality, as though she were painting with pastels rather than primary colors. Erskine, especially, is with her all the way, often relying on his cymbals rather than drums to propel the music. That's going to surprise people (like me, to be honest) who will forever associate him with the high-powered athleticism he displayed when playing with Weather Report. It shouldn't. He's a wonderfully tasty cat who's played with everyone from John Abercrombie and Diana Krall to Steely Dan to Linda Ronstadt.
"Path," live recording. Same performers.
Saxophonist Bob Mintzer and trumpeter John Daversa, who appear in the video directly above, also show up on several of the album's tracks. (Oh, yeah, Dunton has put together a damned impressive band.) Even though the none of the movements turns into a blowing session, they both do a lot more than providing another set of colors, as you can hear. Like Erskine and Oleszkiewicz, they're in tune with Mountain Suite's moods and contribute subtle, intricate, moving solos.
(In a wonderful coincidence, Dunton told me that Mintzer also performed her very first composition. It happened in 2005, when she was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, and Mintzer was in town to perform with the university's jazz ensemble. I wonder if he remembers the dark-haired piano player with the blazing talent.)
I started out by suggesting that Dunton is either a genius or a little bit crazy. I imagine you've figured out which side of the fence I fall on as far as that question is concerned.
It also seems to me that Dunton has more than her share of courage. Not every young artist would be prepared to make her second album one that makes demands on the listeners. This is music that asks for your time and your concentration. It should be heard whole -- as the suite that it is -- and it rewards careful, sustained attention. It takes guts to release an album that's neither iTunes-friendly (it would make little sense to download isolated tracks) nor iPod-friendly (it would make even less sense to put the tracks into a shuffle mix) in 2012.
As slow music in a fast food world, it's never going to be popular music. Most Taylor Swift fans or Beyonce fans probably wouldn't be interested. But some of them would be, if Mountain Suite somehow came their way and if they stopped to listen. Here's hoping that they have the chance.
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If you're in Los Angeles or Berlin, you can catch Dunton live in July. On Sunday, the 8th, she and her trio will be playing in LA at the Honor Bar, in the South Beverly Grill, from 6:00 to 10:00. (Free admission.) And, on the 28th, she and the trio will be in Berlin, performing at Noyman Miller, at 8:30.