Dancing on Thin Ice - by Jordan Richardson
What’s most captivating about Plunge’s Dancing on Thin Ice is just how precarious the record sounds. The New Orleans trio is certainly an unusual one, utilizing a litany of effects and sounds along with their traditional instruments to compose music that feels edgy, weird and delightfully uncertain. With this record, however, the unusual nature of the group is pushed even further out on to the, yeah, thin ice.
Featuring Mark McGrain on trombone, Tim Green on saxophones and James Singleton on bass, Plunge is one of those trios operating with style and bravado beyond all expectations. Stalwarts of the New Orleans music scene, the group’s pedigree for the unusual comes thanks to years of working with the best in the biz.
McGrain, for instance, has worked with Michael Ray, Fredy Omar and others, while Green’s impressive resume includes stints performing and recording with the likes of Peter Gabriel and Herbie Hancock. Singleton’s bass has made its way on to records by Astral Project, Juanita Brooks and more.
Steadiness is the name of the game for Singleton, as his steadfast bass fills the spaces on tracks like “Life of a Cipher” with a deliciously dark rumba. The song is a slinky one, oozing pure sensuality and strut.
Plunge’s playing is couched in that sweet and soulful tradition of New Orleans, borrowing lush and dark elements from brass bands and merchants of groove alike. Their own sound emerges clearly, however, and there’s a thick strand of originality weaving its way through this group’s magical playing. While notes of modern contemporary instrumentalists can be heard at times, these pieces all find their own truth thanks to McGrain’s brilliant and brave composition.
More than that, the songs find freedom with the dexterity and cleverness of the players. The anthemic and buoyant stride of “The Praise Singer” lets the horns break through the ice with valour and cheer, while the pensive “Missing Mozambique” takes listeners on a more challenging journey.
Creativity really kicks into high gear with the record’s boldest track, the bizarre and funky “One Man’s Machine.” Built on a cloud of electro-industrial noise, the piece reveals Plunge as a trio willing to try anything.
All in all, Dancing on Thin Ice is a wonderfully courageous and risky jazz record. It is unsafe in the best of ways and features a group in full command of their art despite operating on some fairly unsteady, complicated ground.
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