For the first time in 13 years, trombonist Marc McGrain has convened a group of musicians to record an album under the moniker Plunge. In the mid-‘90s, McGrain, then a Boston resident, helmed Plunge’s 1996 release Falling with Grace, a heady, groove-heavy expedition that garnered significant acclaim in the jazz world. This time around, McGrain, now a New Orleans denizen, recruited saxophonist Tim Green and bassist James Singleton to participate in a unique session, one rooted in improvisation and recorded live at McGrain’s home studio with little to no prior rehearsal. Titled Dancing on Thin Ice, the album is exhilarating,post-bop fare suffused with tight, interlocking melodies and cool, nimble grooves.
The disc begins with a mysterious, darting bass line shadowed by a creeping unison melody which splits into a stealthy, twisting solo section. Throughout, the musicians expand on this theme, chasing each other around corners, dipping, diving, and dashing from one spot to the next. Without a drummer, Singleton sets the tone, creating tension with his jaunts and deepening the mood with his cavernous swells and deft countermelodies. McGrain, the ringleader, delivers a stellar performance, scampering, scaling, and surging across the sonic terrain. His haunting squeals and electronic explorations also spur the albums most intense and exciting forays. Green shades the landscape, coloring its contours with his soaring solos, stiff, angular volleys, luminescent tones, and rich, reverberant flourishes.
It doesn’t get any cooler than the smooth, spacious rumble of “Life of a Cipher,” nor will you ever come across anything more sinister than McGrain’s eerie solo endeavor, “One Man Machine.” The exquisite “Missing Mozambique” glistens with a somber, silvery motif, but the sweeping, carefree stroll “The Praise Singer” seals the set with a sunlit swing. Consider Dancing on Thin Ice a plunge worth taking.