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Dan Weiss’ Trio Even Odds Is A Sure-Thing Bet

Miguel Zenon, Matt Mitchell, Dan Weiss photo by Stephanie Ahn-Weiss

Rock, paper, scissors is perhaps the most elementary game ever devised. Yet within its narrow structure it offers endless strategic possibilities. Little wonder that the three hand gestures form the cover image of Even Odds, Dan Weiss’ terrific new release on Cygnus Records. Put it on your Bandcamp Friday wishlist and listen to the music at Even Odds’ two shows at BOP STOP Saturday night.

Weiss is a musician—and a man–who relishes a challenge. He plays poker and chess and is a competitive distance runner. When we talked yesterday, he was audibly under the weather. Yet with a half marathon looming, it was time to train. “Weather never stops me, ever,” Weiss said. “Colds too. Sometimes I just run through them.”

That single-minded dedication extends to the drum kit where Weiss executes dizzyingly fractal patterns with pinpoint precision in contexts as varied as straightahead bands, vocalist Jen Shyu’s theater pieces and his own electric Starebaby band. Check out his videos on Instagram for highly concentrated nuggets of technical discussion informed by deep and reverential historical analysis.

Decades of study with tabla master Samir Chatterjee brought complex South Asian rhythmic cycles into Weiss’ drum vocabulary, and metal is in there too. Hearing John Bonham, Weiss told me for a preview of his BOP STOP concert in 2022, “made me want to play drums.” (note: you can read my preview of that 2022 concert here and my review for All About Jazz here).

For Even Odds, on record and at Saturday’s two shows, Weiss is joined by alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón and pianist Matt Mitchell, two musicians who are on the drummer’s exalted level of technical brilliance, formal innovation and panoptical interests.


Characteristically, Weiss put them to the test on Even Odds. Fourteen of the recording’s 20 pieces began as solo recordings of drum exercises not unlike those on Weiss’ Instagram posts.  “I was working on these grooves, and I figured that they’re such good musicians, I’m just gonna play it and just see what happens when I lay them down,” Weiss said. “Matt overdubbed and maybe Miguel overdubbed. I think there’s a couple where we just played them live, too”,

You could think of those 14 compositions as a series of etudes for improvising trio, exercises that, like Chopin’s efforts in the form, combine daunting technical demands with the most sublime artistry.

As played live on the current tour, Weiss said, “We go in and out of the written material. It’s just a lot of openness and availability for a lot of music to be made.”

Mitchell, who has been playing with the drummer for 15 years, likened the freedom in Weiss’ concept to the way the music became more expansive in Miles Davis’ mid-60s quartet. “After a while, those tunes are still very much set to a very specific universe. It can be very defined, but it can be still different from night to night.”

And that, Mitchell said, is how the music is evolving on the current tour. It could hardly be otherwise given the staggering resources that he and Zenón, who was just named as the recipient of a 2024 Doris Duke Artist Award, bring to the endeavor.

“They stand out,” Weiss said, citing his bandmates’ musicality, dedication,  compositional craft, and individual sounds. “You hear them both and you know it’s them.  Both of them have great work ethics, a great sense of discipline. That’s one of the reasons why I love playing with them, being around them.”

And challenging them, too.

The way the music on Even Odds was created is not far removed by the now-common practice of building music out from beats. I asked the restlessly curious Weiss if he has any interest in making beats electronically the way hip-hop producers do.

“Not so much,” he replied with characteristic directness. “I mean, I listen to various electronic musics, but, it hasn’t really entered my mind as something that I felt like I’ve wanted to do.” I asked if he might try beat making after he had learned everything there was to know about playing the drum kit.

“Yeah, I’ll never do that, so why?”

Dan Weiss Even Odds featuring Miguel Zenón and Matt Mitchell, Sat., May 4, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., BOP STOP, 2920 Detroit Ave., Cleveland. Tickets $30, available here.

NOTE: This article was written by a real human being. No artificial intelligence or generative language models were used in its creation.

Red beans and ricely yours,