As left-field jazz fans know, drummer-composer Whit Dickey has amassed a sizable catalog of recordings as a bandleader, in addition to several dozen more as a collaborator and sideman with David S. Ware, Matthew Shipp, Ivo Perelman, and Joe Morris among them. Peace Planet and Box of Light were recorded by his Tao Quartets, whose membership varies. He and saxophonist Rob Brown are the common denominators, while Shipp and bassist William Parker fill out Peace Planet, and trombonist Steve Swell and bassist Michael Bisio appear on Box of Light. As might be expected, the music on these albums varies significantly yet remains inexorably linked by the drummer's and saxophonist's presences. Dickey composed everything on these dates, recorded during the winter of 2018 and 2019 in Brooklyn. The relationships between these musicians are longstanding. Dickey, Shipp, Brown, and Parker began working together during the late '80s; Dickey met Bisio shortly thereafter, and Swell during the '90s on N.Y.C. downtown scene.
Peace Planet is constructed suite-like, with each piece flowing forward and dissolving into its successor. Dickey's playing identifies a more in-the-pocket feel, and his sense of swing unites the interplay between Shipp and Parker -- check the final section of the opening title cut as Brown's Charlie Parker-esque melodic lines rise above, colored by sharp legato phrasing and an evolutionary harmonic architecture. The drummer's sense of elastic time is showcased by using the entirety of his kit, whether he's feinting and filling, double-timing, or creating points of emphasis in the shifting instrumental voices (as on "Suite for DSW").
Box of Light is more raucous and angular but no less compelling. On "Eye-Opener," Brown's Monk-like lyric is joined contrapuntally by Swell's bleating low-end; the pair join the interplay between Dickey and Bisio. On "Ethereality," Brown finds a bluesy, Sonny Rollins-esque phrase that coaxes Bisio's arco to highlight the jam's varied harmonic elements. Dickey's hi-hat and ride cymbals are given added dimension via his prodigious use of tom-toms. When Swell enters, the piece alters form, and drones mantra-like into space -- one can hear traces of the influence of the New York Art Quartet's edgeless Mohawk linked, with Dickey's modern ears, to the historic free jazz past. Bisio shines, giving the drummer an added textural body by allowing his kit a grounding, song-like emphasis that actually swings. Disc two's title track commences as a funeral dirge before transmuting into a fluid, action-packed post-bop rumble with glorious soloing from all players. Dickey has spent a lifetime getting here, where his playing and compositional acumen are on the same plane. On Peace Planet/Box of Light, the drummer takes his musicality to another level, vast as a rainbow, intimate as a prayer, and flowing like a river.