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Whit Dickey

Whit Dickey is a vanguard jazz drummer, composer, and bandleader. In the 20th century he worked extensively with David S. Ware, Joe Morris, and Matthew Shipp. In the 21st he continued to collaborate -- with Ivo Perelman and bassist William Parker, among others -- but has increasingly led his own groups. He made his leader debut with Transonic in 1998. As Nommonsemble, comprising Dickey, Mat Maneri, and Shipp, released Life Cycle in 2001. In 2013 he formed Blood Trio with Sabir Mateen and Michael Bisio; they issued Understory, and in 2019, he recorded the double-length Peace Planet/Box of Light, with contrasting lineups. He created the Tao Forms label in 2020 for his own releases, including that year's Expanding Light and 2021's Garden of Jewels and Village Mothership. 2022 saw him release Reels with Shipp, MBefore with Bisio, Maneri, and Karl Berger, and two Whit Dickey Quartet albums, Astral Long Form: Staircase in Space and Root Perspectives. Dickey was born in New York City in 1954 and raised in Bennington, Vermont. He began playing drums in his twenties, inspired by Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and Mahavishnu Orchestra's Birds of Fire, as well as the free sounds of Cecil Taylor and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. He participated in workshops at the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock and later studied with Milford Graves and Bill Dixon at Bennington College and at the New England Conservatory of Music, where he transcribed solos by Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk. He made his recording debut with Matthew Shipp's quartet in 1990 on the album Points for Sweden's Silkheart; made Youniverse in 1992, and was a member of Shipp's trio for Circular Temple the same year. In 1993, he claimed the drum chair in David S. Ware's group, appearing on the saxophonist's DIW debut Third Ear Recitation. He remained with Ware until 1996, playing on a handful albums including Earthquation, Cryptology, and Dao. Also in 1996, he joined Morris' group for Elsewhere, while continuing his work with Shipp. Dickey took a year-long sabbatical in 1997, which he spent reinventing his playing style, meditating, and composing. He re-merged with his leader debut Transonic in 1998 for AUM Fidelity, with Brown on sax and flute, and bassist Chris Lightcap. He composed or co-composed each of the album's eight tracks. Big Top, for Wobbly Rail, was released two years later in a quartet setting with Morris on electric guitar. The album included two originals and covers of Eric Dolphy's "The Prophet" and Thelonious Monk's "Skippy." In 2001, Dickey recorded half-a-dozen of his compositions with Mat Maneri, Shipp, and Brown under the name Nommonsemble, which released Life Cycle on AUM Fidelity. A year later, he recorded as a member of the collective Trio Ahxoloxha on Prophet Moon with Morris and Brown. In 2004, he and bassist Dominic Duval played in saxophonist James Finn's trio for Opening the Gates, released by Cadence Jazz. Dickey expanded his trio to a quartet with trumpeter Roy Campbell for a handful of albums including 2004's Coalescence, 2005's In a Heartbeat, and 2006's Sacred Ground. Also in 2006 he returned to play with Shipp's trio on Piano Vortex after a decade apart. Two years later he joined Morris and Brown in a collective and released Right Hemisphere for France's Rogueart label. In 2009, he teamed up with multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter and pianist Eri Yamamoto for the universally acclaimed Emergence on Not Two. He played exclusively in Shipp's groups for the next two years on a series of albums that included the pianist's most acclaimed outing, Art of the Improviser. Also around this time, he met saxist Ivo Perelman through Shipp and the pair made their debut with The Clairvoyant for Leo Records; it marked the beginning of a periodic partnership that would result in a dozen albums. A year later the pair issued the duo set Tenorhood. In 2014, Dickey appeared with Shipp on the unnecessarily controversial Duke Ellington homage To Duke. Dickey and cornetist Kirke Knuffke issued the duo album Fierce Silence for Portugal's Clean Feed, all the while recording and performing in Perelman's various groups and Shipp's trio. In 2017, Dickey once again reunited with Shipp and Maneri for the trio session Vessel in Orbit on AUM Fidelity, and joined the pianist's quartet with Michael Bisio, and either Daniel Carter (Not Bound, For Tune, 2017) or Polish emigre Mat Walerian (Sonic Fiction, ESP-Disk, 2018) on saxophones and winds. Dickey released his most expansive outing to date in July of 2019. Leading two groups of players called the Tao Quartets, he issued the double-disc offering Peace Planet/Box of Light on AUM Fidelity. The former group included Shipp, Brown, and bassist William Parker, while the latter featured sidemen Brown, Bisio, and trombonist Steve Swell. Recorded in Brooklyn during the winter of 2018 and 2019, it housed 11 compositions by the drummer that showcased his aesthetic ideas and playing strategies regarding the evolution of harmony, texture, and dynamic force. In the spring and summer of 2019, Dickey cut two complete sessions with Jim Clouse at Park West Studios in Brooklyn. In March, the drummer teamed with Shipp and trumpeter Nate Wooley for the trio offering titled Pacific Noir, and in June, the drummer and pianist cut Reckoning, an improvised duo set. They were released together in a single budget-priced package by ESP-Disk in June of 2020 as Morph. It appeared exactly a week before Expanding Light on his Tao Forms label. The studio set featured the drummer's working trio with saxophonist Rob Brown and bassist Brandon Lopez. In January of the following year, Dickey released a trio effort with Ivo Perelman and Shipp titled Garden of Jewels, and in October, Village Mothership with Shipp and bassist William Parker. Dickey was prolific in 2022. In March, Reels, a duo with Shipp, became the inaugural release from Burning Ambulance Music. A week later, Tao Forms issued the first of three releases: MBefore with Bisio, Maneri, and Karl Berger. In May, Astral Long Form: Staircase in Space appeared from the Whit Dickey Quartet with violist Maneri, bassist Brandon Lopez, and saxophonist Rob Brown. In October WDQ released Root Perspectives with a lineup that included Shipp, Lopez, and saxophonist Tony Malaby.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo


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