New Jersey resident Dasuel Kim has a secret musical weapon here – and he’s not a member of the South Korean-born bassist’s eponymous trio: Vincent Herring, a former sideman with Lionel Hampton, Art Blakey and Dizzy Gillespie among many others, guests on five of the eight tracks from Relationship, adding both name recognition and no small amount of intriguing friction.
Kim’s Trio – which features, along with Dasuel, pianist Oscar Williams and drummer Ryan Palermo – quickly construct an almost air-tight sense of camaraderie, playing off each other and then as one. Herring, even more than terrific one-off collaborations here with bassist Marcus McLaurine and guitarist P.J. Rasmussen, provides the grist for the groove, the conflict that gives Relationship its lasting sense of drama.
A great example of the innate camaraderie that Kim’s Trio enjoys can be found on “Before The Earth.” A tune composed by Williams, it features Daseul’s core group zipping through a swinging score. Williams moves with a flinty confidence from hard-banging grooves through to a series of smart flourishes, even as Daseul and Palermo provide an active and imaginative counterpoint.
When Daseul – who has, since arriving in the states, studied with Rufus Reid and Harold Mabern, while appearing on stage with Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller – steps out for a solo, he does so with a groove-focused verve.
The album achieves liftoff, however, when Herring makes his entrance on “Don’t Let Go,” a song he composed. The mood shifts to one of expectancy, and Dasuel’s group answers the challenge — stopping and starting on a dime, providing a spacious platform for the saxist’s melancholy warmth. Williams’ solo this time, of a portent-filled bass groove, is a wonder of restraint.
Billy Strayhorn’s “Rain Check” is subsequently presented as a tandem bass feature, with Dasuel being joined by McLaurine, a Count Basie Orchestra alum. They tangle and untangle in the most interesting of ways, sounding at times conversational and at others like quarrelling lovers. In an album focused thematically on emotional interactions, the complex, wildly gesticulating “Rain Check” is a high point.
The title track finds Dasuel’s core trio being joined again by Herring, who switches to a melancholy flute. After a lengthy intro, as quietly effective as it is desperately sad, Williams and Dasuel gather new emotions as “Relationship” continues to trace passion’s ebb and flow. When Herring returns, it’s with a more approachable, romantic bent. The same lineup, with Herring back on sax, then tears into “Lean on the Everlasting Arms,” a traditional hymn. Herring simply unleashes torrents of sound, though he’s matched step for step by Dasuel and Co., who set about constructing a blistering cadence.
Dasuel’s “Apology” has a feel in keeping with its title, unfolding slowly and ever so thoughtfully behind the leader’s considered bass utterances. Herring transforms into a completely different player, as mournful and ruminative as he had been volcanic just one track earlier. “Enjoying Spring,” the final Dasuel original on Relationship, swings with a hard-bitten post-bop attitude, and just the right dash of grease-popping blues. After Herring’s soulful turn, Dasuel steps forward with an elastic solo that, at one point, seems to hint at Gershwin’s “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” before returning the group to Herring’s warm tone.
Rasmussen, a student with Bucky Pizzarelli who has played with Terell Stafford and Mulgrew Miller, is then paired with Dasuel for the album’s finale – the Rasmussen composition “Love Letter (Good Night).” As the guitarist explores a blissy dreamscape, Dasuel offers a deep-blue counterpoint – playing with a hard-bitten depth of emotion. That final juxtaposition adds new depth, even as Relationship draws to a very satisfying close.