“Ghost Dance,” the aptly named new offering from Twin Cities composer and bass player Casey O’Brien, has the sparse, spacious sound of a wide open musical spirit world where bass, saxophone and percussion flit about in the ether like dancing apparitions, teasing the ear and beckoning a myriad of emotions.
O’Brien says he had these eight songs taking turns playing in his head for a long time, but it was only after introducing them to saxophone player Nathan Hanson, and drummer Davu Seru, that he found the the kind of performers who could create the musical mood that gave the songs their unique feel.
“I’ve played these songs with a slew of differing musicians,” O’Brien says, “But when I performed them with Nathan and Davu, their way of hearing the songs was so different that it altered the way I reacted, musically. With them, I found myself in a wide-open musical landscape that needed to be captured and preserved.”
The result is a collaboration that takes O’Brien’s songs along deep harmonic tangents that reveal a sensitive and nuanced sophistication. IIt also unveils a trio who’ve clearly put in their time together, over the years, and who feel comfortable taking the type of musical risks that can only occur with a deep trust of one another’s ear and musical sensibilities.
“Davu and Nathan are musicians who were eager to explore beyond the borderlands,” O’Brien says. “They really felt their way through these songs in an innovative way. This dramatically altered what I chose to do on bass, and the tunes evolved into something fresh and far more appealing.”
Presently, O’Brien leads various jazz and R&B ensembles based in the Twin Cities; frequent collaborators include Graham O’Brien, JT Bates, Nathan Hanson, Davu Seru, and John Keston. He has also performed nationally and internationally in the soul ensemble Sonny Knight & The Lakers, improv-group Coloring Time, soul songstress PaviElle and the modern wonder Mina Moore.
- One of the best surprises of the year came in December, when bassist Casey O’Brien announced a new recording that includes Nathan Hanson on saxophones and Davu Seru on drums.On “Ghost Dance,” the trio performs eight original compositions by O’Brien, the house bass player for the soul and R&B label Secret Stash. On the album’s moody and flowing tracks, the musicians produce sounds that dance in the air.
David Cazares – MPR
- Because this came as such a sweet end-of-year surprise. It almost didn’t make the list; I learned about it second-hand and listened at the last possible minute. (It wasn’t officially available until December 14. The CD release is set for January 5 at Icehouse.) So glad I did, because it’s a beauty. O’Brien on bass, Nathan Hanson on saxophones and Davu Seru on drums play eight of O’Brien’s original compositions. This is music of seeking and finding, pensiveness, tenderness, and a spirituality reminiscent of Charles Lloyd. Even when the tempo speeds up, it takes its time
Pamela Espeland – Bebopified
Given his background and recent projects, as well as his cohorts on the new recording, it’s reasonable to expect the unexpected on Ghost Dance. Overall, the mood and collaborative interactions suggest ECM has set up a Minnesota outlet; the all-original music (written by O’Brien) flows like a series of incantations. The Gods must be pleased.
“Sawai” provides a brief opening with just bass and drums, as if an introduction to a dance suite. Even in the short span, Casey conjures guitar and bass with two distinct lines, perhaps using a looper. Nathan Hanson adds soprano sax to “Dayton,” melodically wandering but not aimlessly, rather truly exploring the terrain, which is largely gentle with some valleys created by O’Brien’s bass lines. “Ghost Dance Part 1” (separated from Part 2 by several tracks) is marked by a constant, bubbly bass vamp and alternating clicks and clangs from Seru. The composition is like an African folk dance; Hanson (on soprano) is a talented storyteller creating multiple voices, O’Brien unwavering, Seru the energy source. “Part Two” has a similar yet distinctive bass vamp covering a wider range of tones, creating a more ominous feel, a more urgent storyline with more assertive percussion. Hanson’s adventure kicks up more sonic (cosmic?) dust as if climbing a mountain, reaching a point where the Gods are closer, only to stop in awe, falling somewhere between Coltrane and Lloyd.
“2 Bells” is simply beautiful . Hanson (on tenor and maybe more) suggests Chris Potter’s most recent work. O’Brien’s solo creates bell tones against the gentle slapping of Seru’s brushes. A dark energetic bass introduces “Mpls,” with soprano sax singing atop what becomes a vamping bass in cahoots with the gentle tapdancing of drums. The energy gradually builds, O’Brien taking over as rhythmic storyteller in multiple voices, closing with Hanson’s final prayer. “So” finds Hanson back on tenor, with more acrobatic lines from O’Brien, and you can visualize the elastic movements from Seru. The closing “Polyhistor” benefits from a steady bass and varied percussion effects over Hanson’s tenor. It’s a relatively lively work that feels like a spontaneous improvisation among three kindred spirits
Andrea Canter – Jazz Police
Probably best-known around town as the rock-solid, hard-driving bassist of the ebullient Sonny Knight & The Lakers, Casey O’Brien is an improvising jazz man at heart. He proves it on a spare and beautiful new trio release called, “Ghost Dance,” co-starring the simpatico drummer, Davu Seru, and Fantastic Merlins saxophonist, Nathan Hanson. The often folksy-sounding, accessible “Ghost Dance” truly seduces the listener. It should find favor with fans of world jazz heroes Don Cherry, David Bond, and Yusef Lateef, also with older listeners hip to the Jimmy Giuffre 3, and with young hometown fans of Happy Apple’s gentler, more contemplative tracks. “Ghost Dance” is a low-key gem.
Tom Surowicz – Vita.MN
- Throughout Ghost Dance’s 8 tunes the bass, percussion, and saxophone interact seamlessly, winding around each other to throw complex shadows across an expansive musical range.Jon Behm – Reviler
01. Sawai (C.O’Brien)
02. Dayton (C.O’Brien)
03. Ghost Dance pt.1 (C.O’Brien)
04. 2 Bells (C.O’Brien)
05. M.P.L.S. (C.O’Brien)
06. Ghost Dance pt.2 (C.O’Brien)
07. S.O. (C.O’Brien)
08. Polyhistor (C.O’Brien/N.Hanson/D.Seru)
Casey O’Brien // Bass
Nathan Hanson // Saxophones
Davu Seru // Drums
Recorded, Mixed and Mastered
by Graham O’Brien @ Bellows
St. Paul, MN.
Produced by Casey O’Brien