Under the Porch
Bright Dog Red

Bright Dog Red (BDR), an improvising collective from Albany, New York, will release Under the Porch on May 20, 2022. Under the Porch, marks the ensemble’s fifth album since signing with Ropeadope in 2018.

Under the Porch features twelve tracks, recorded part by part, layer by layer, edit after edit, over a period spanning late 2020 to late 2021. The album, arguably BDR’s most accessible to date, features a new take on the ensemble’s “signature sound” a mix of “free-form jazz, funk, rock, and hip-hop” (Glide Magazine).

Long recognized for their “improvisation that defies categorization” (Dan Ouellette), Under the Porch represents a departure from BDR’s typical approach to production.

Travel and gathering restrictions imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic prevented the band from meeting to record in studio, as they had done on previous releases. With the players scattered in disparate locations, the group began exploring a manner of production that had long interested BDR’s drummer and leader Joe Pignato.

I thought it would be interesting to put grooves at the fore of a BDR album, to make them the foundations for the production process. So, I recorded improvised drum tracks, thinking they could serve as structures or points of departure for the other musicians. I sent the drum tracks to the bass players, four to Tony (Berman), four to Tyreek (Jackson), and four to Tim (Lefebvre). Each of them sent back such different things; composed parts, loops and fragments, freely improvised ideas.

Pignato then worked to integrate the idiosyncratic bass parts. As the underpinnings of drums and bass evolved, Pignato sent the tracks to individual musicians within the ensemble, based on who he thought best suited the nascent direction of the music. When the individual parts came back, Pignato integrated them into the emerging project, sometimes exactly as they had been recorded, other times making edits or loops, and other times chopping and layering them to create entirely new ideas.

The process was intriguing for the contributing musicians. Tim Lefebvre, BDR’s newest member, commented on tracking over the drum foundations, “it was a nice surprise to be first in line to create over Joe’s killer drumming!” Tyreek Jackson found himself “playing and writing differently” for this project. Jackson explained, “I love the round-robin approach; giving each member a different set of foundational beats to improvise with, to then pass on to the following member, to the next member, and so forth. Not always knowing who the subsequent member would be was really exciting.” Eric Person felt challenged to do new things, “I wanted to present something different than on previous BDR releases, to introduce fresh melodic and harmonic concepts while having fun with my effects unit. Cody Davies concluded, “it felt like a cross between scoring a film and engineering a session, more enhancing the ideas of the other musicians than creating parts.” Pignato reminisced about the piecemeal evolution of the project, “no one knew where it was going, except for me, and I didn’t know as much as I responded to how it sounded at any given moment by integrating the new material, guiding the project forward, until it was like, ‘I think we’re there.’” Boston based mastering engineer Bryan Brundige has worked on all five of BDR’s Ropeadope releases. The unusual recording approach and the increased use of production technique’s in Pignato’s mix required a different mastering mindset. Brundige explained:

Under the Porch is BDR’s most dynamic album yet. It also happens to be the most bass-centric album, showcasing three talented and unique bassists. Maintaining that in-your-face bass, while preserving the overall dynamic changes throughout the album, required much more finesse on my end. The album represents a progression into a more refined sound; a step away from live collective improvisation into meticulous and thoughtful lab tests in the recording studio.

In some ways, then, Under the Porch, might be viewed as a counterpoint to BDR’s critically acclaimed live album, In Vivo, released in 2021. That album featured a single set, some 60 minutes of completely improvised music, captured live, end-to-end, with minimal editing. Pignato, explained, “this approach gave us a chance to see what we could do, with different means. Our first album was titled Means to the Ends, and while that title has many meanings within the group, one of them was surely that there are multiple pathways to getting to BDR’s sound. This album is another one of those pathways and one we’ll hopefully continue to explore in the future.”

Bright Dog Red, celebrated for “sublimely marrying jazz with hip-hop, funk, and electronic music” (JazzTimes), has long been “a fixture on the NYC jazz and improvisation scene” (Jazz Journal). The group’s “proudly unanchored improvisation” (Downbeat) has been described as “part Ornette Coleman and Prime Time, part Lounge Lizards, part A Tribe Called Quest” (JazzTimes). Others have compared the group to “Mahavishnu Orchestra meets Digable Planets” (Paul Schulman), “Romantic Warrior era Return to Forever” (Rimas e Batidas), and “electronic Ahmad Jamal” (Don Lucoff).

Founded by Joe Pignato, BDR is comprised of a rotating cast of players. In addition to Pignato (drums, percussion, concepts), Under the Porch features Eric Person (soprano and alto saxophones, flute, effects), Tim Lefebvre (electric bass), Tyreek Jackson (electric bass and guitar), Cody Davies (sounds), Mike LaBombard (tenor saxophone, effects), Anthony Berman (acoustic bass), and Matt Coonan (poetry, freestyling, voice).

Prior to signing with Ropeadope, BDR released two independently distributed EPs, 2017’s Bullet Proof Shoes and 2015’s Teasers, prompting bloggers Peck and JT to declare, “Put Albany’s Bright Dog Red on your radar as this jazzy psychedelic hip hop posse has potential for some progressive golden era goodness.”

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