Denman Maroney — Martingale (self-released, 2020)
I’m familiar with Denman Maroney through his work with hyperpiano — prepared piano that adds a dynamic element, such as applying a metal bowl as a “slide” on the strings. Martingale employs a different kind of tinkering. It uses jazz composition as its starting point, in an upbeat quartet format, but things are awry. It’s dis-aligned jazz.
The underlying complexity comes from polyrhythms — or what Maroney calls temporal harmony, with instruments tracking different rhythmic cycles, such as three-over-two or five-over-four. The foundation is often single-note rhythms rather than chords, and while I found myself craving the jazzy sound of chords, their absence builds a lightness (as in, the opposite of density) that helps my ears track the multiple cycles spooling out. Even on a casual listen, you can feel a geometry in the music, and Maroney provides enough room to take a peek at the schematic, revealing the cycles within cycles.
The thickest stack of time layers — six of them, apparently — is in the title track, which opens the album. “Martingale” takes a patient approach, building energy while maintaining enough space to discern the rhythms.
The album doesn’t come across as mathematical. “New One Two” builds from what sounds like a simple keyboard riff, except its repetitions are constantly shifting — an innocent rhythm, bouncing like a tumbleweed. Then there’s “Sea Set Wheat” (a play on words: six, sept, huit would be 6:7:8 in French), which coaxes a swinging rhythm out of polyrhythmic cycles. Players then break off into a free improvisation, and it’s tempting to think that they might be staying in their respective polyrhythmic times while doing so. (I don’t actually believe this, but it’s fun to imagine.)
I feel like I also have to mention “Off Centerpiece,” which takes the skeleton of the jazz standard “Centerpiece” and disjoints it.
For another taste of polyrhythms, the band Kronomorfic has a sound even more deeply steeped in conventional free jazz (now there’s an oxymoron). Their 2010 release features a sextet including vibraphone and sax. And in 2015, the not-so-conventional piano trio Dawn of Midi released Dysnomia, a through-composed album based on hypnotically chill cycles. I got to see them perform it live. The piano’s minimal, chordless touch — essentially becoming a percussion instrument — combined with acoustic bass and drums made for a spellbinding set.