Charles Rumback – Two kinds of Art Thieves (CF 152)
There has long been an interesting cross-pollination between Chicago’s younger jazz and improvising musicians and the “post-rock” scene that developed in the early 1990s, out of bands like Tortoise and The Sea and Cake. Chicago’s Thrill Jockey label has hosted releases from Rob Mazurek’s Chicago Underground projects and Exploding Star Orchestra (one of which was a collaboration with trumpeter-composer Bill Dixon), as well as veterans Fred Anderson and drummer Robert Barry. Stalwart Chi-town blues and jazz label Delmark has, likewise, released the music of Mazurek and Tortoise’s Jeff Parker alongside more strictly “jazz” young lions. Less well-known than some of his peers, percussionist Charles Rumback (originally from Wichita, Kansas) is one of the busiest avant-rock sidemen in the area, playing with L’altra, Via Tania, and the ambient-improvisation duo Colorlist; Two Kinds of Art Thieves is his debut as a leader.
One might expect the gauzy, filmic textures of Colorlist to work their way into Rumback’s quartet music, so it’s somewhat surprising that Art Thieves is decidedly a jazz record, though the emphasis is on spare group improvisation. Rumback is joined here by alto saxophonist Greg Ward and tenorman Josh Sclar (and for two tracks, bassist Jason Ajemian) on six original compositions. Ten years ago, when Rumback was based in Lawrence, Kansas, his approach showed the influence of such diverse but equally intense sources as Brian Blade, Ben Perowsky and Han Bennink. The antics of bash have given way to a disappearing act, the drummer making laconic use of brushes and sleigh-bells, continually piling up economies around dovetailing alto and tenor. Sclar and Ward are an updated, free-time analogue to Warne Marsh and Gary Foster, cotton purrs and squeals merging into a singular voice. On “Manifesto,” gooey long tones from Ajemian’s bass bolster the pair as Rumback knits the air with mallets and bells. “Four Ruminations” merges slinky repetition in a dark groove behind the saxophonists’ unkempt keening, Ward’s alto rising quickly out of the ambience to chortle and declaim. One couldn’t ask for a stronger debut, and Two Kinds of Art Thieves is a welcome addition to the landscape of young Chicago improvisation.–
Zé Eduardo Unit – A Jazzar – Live in Capuchos (CF 155)
The trio of bassist-composer Zé Eduardo, drummer Bruno Pedroso and powerhouse tenorman Jesús Santandreu has been active on the Iberian scene for the better part of a decade, primarily as a vehicle for the leader’s arrangements of folk and popular song into open improvisational settings. Their Clean Feed debut, A Jazzar no Zeca (2002), was a setting of the anti-fascist songs of José Afonso; other recordings have focused on Portuguese cinema, and Live in Capuchos retains the cinematic tradition by including themes from cartoons The Simpsons and Noddy. I’ll confess a slight gag reflex was triggered by seeing Danny Elfman’s tune in the setlist, but it’s rendered barely recognizable across the track’s seven minutes, Santandreu digging into his Newk/Trane roots in a rollicking solo over a jolly, pliant bounce. There’s a shade of Rollins’ “I’m an Old Cowhand” here, and in fact the tongue-in-cheek trotting-out of a fairly insipid recent popular song is something Eduardo has in common with Rollins and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
“Grandola” opens with a weighty plod before bass and tenor soar in delicate interplay; Eduardo’s bass takes a more central role than on previous dates, exhibiting affection for high-pitched pizzicato strumming, effortlessly shifting from fluttering abstraction to supple, folksy lilt. Pedroso, a longtime fixture on the Lisbon scene and a highly in-demand drummer, dissects marches into stabbing freedom, yet carries a loose backbeat just as easily. Thirty-odd years ago, a player cobbling together mainstream and free-jazz tenor influences wouldn’t have been something particularly interesting, but somehow the honesty of Santandreu’s approach is refreshing – especially because he’s not a technical showman but a compellingly virile student of the music. His sand-blasted honks and blats in “Dartacão,” coupled with fleet fingering and wide leaps, are an exciting reminder of what solid modern-jazz tenor playing is all about. Eduardo coined the verb “jazzar” to define what his group does – to make jazz, make immediate the legacy of popular and folk song, translating even the hokiest numbers into personal artworks. Live in Capuchos is a fine example of the Zé Eduardo Unit at work.–
Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of old Sky (CF 151)
Pieces of Old Sky marks the second disc in barely as many years by trombonist Samuel Blaser’s quartet. The only returning member is bassist Thomas Morgan; Blaser is joined on these seven original compositions by percussionist Tyshawn Sorey and guitarist Todd Neufeld. The trombonist’s pedigree is strong – Swiss-born and working in both Brooklyn and Berlin, he’s won the Benny Golson and J.J. Johnson prizes and occupied trombone chairs in the European Radio Big Band and the Vienna Art Orchestra. One would assume that the natural choice following those exploits would be to assemble a top-rank contemporary hardbop group and play the shit out of some Jazztet-like charts. Not so Blaser; in addition to this staunchly open (albeit not “free”) quartet, he’s also released a disc of extended solo playing in the tradition of ‘bone abusers like Paul Rutherford and Günter Christmann, and performed in duo with veteran Swiss drummer Pierre Favre. Blaser’s tone is crisp and clean, but he has a strong command of multiphonics and a tendency to work long, low tones like a bass trombonist or tubaist.
Neufeld’s guitar playing here has a dustbowl sensibility suggesting filmic folk-rock, and stands in stark relief to the slush and poise of the leader’s phrasing; the results recall the grainy distance of the Nels Cline Singers. The lengthy title piece offers a field of mournful strums, mallet wash and loose pizzicato outlines, a windblown landscape that sets the stage for an oddly precise bluesiness. Following the leader’s cleaned-up “Everywhere”-like statement, guitar and bass draw around each other, teasing out Spanish-tinged moments and borough skitter. Sorey’s suspensions and bombs are placed with muscular exactitude, a grand component of this modern tone poem. Blaser’s sound is totally his own, rich and deep and with a curiously Latinate musk; his heady and romantic storytelling fills in the atmospheric holes left by the ensemble.
“Red Hook” is given a knotty run-through, before Sorey and Morgan untie those knots and make new ones of their own. Sorey is one of those drummers who changes moods with such deftness and speed that one might miss the initial structure of an idea, since it’s quickly replaced by its reconfigurations. All that technique might be tiring if it weren’t part of a larger purpose, and the duet he performs with Blaser midway through is full of such natural, song-like flutter that mere “exactitude” doesn’t matter. “Mandala” returns to the approach of the opener, blues-rock flecks fleshed out with a bit of Mangelsdorff growl that falls away into spare, front-porch detail. Unlike a lot of young upstarts with jazz chops to spare, Blaser is equally convincing working in more exploratory, collectivist forms of improvisation, and the results on Pieces of Old Sky are thoroughly convincing.–