Walt Dickerson

Relativity

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Largely continuing the blueprint of A Sense of Direction, Relativity finds Walt Dickerson mixing standards with adventurous yet upbeat originals. This time around, though, there's a subtext to Dickerson's standards selection: all three -- "It Ain't Necessarily So," "I Can't Get Started," and "Autumn in New York" -- had been previously recorded by Milt Jackson, which invited explicit comparisons and gave Dickerson a chance to show off how distinctive and pioneering his Coltrane-influenced approach to vibes really was. As for his originals, Dickerson is once again in a good mood, offering bursts of up-tempo energy in "Steppin' Out" and the title track, as well as a playfully swinging tribute to his eight-year-old sister titled "Sugar Lump." On the more cerebral side, there's a free-form dialogue with bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, "The Unknown," which features some of Dickerson's freest playing. If there is a flaw with Relativity, it's that it doesn't have quite the same spark of revelation as Dickerson's first two albums; critics were beginning to identify his brief note clusters and stop-start phrasing as stylistic trademarks, and aside from the duet with Abdul-Malik, the record doesn't really push Dickerson's sound into new territory. Still, taken independently of context, Relativity is another fine recording and one of the better pieces of Dickerson's underappreciated legacy.

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