Kyle Bruckmann’s WRACK – Cracked Refraction (Porter)
Boris Hauf Sextet – Next Delusion (CF 238)
In a way it’s not surprising that reedman Jason Stein has become the go-to guy for challenging or experimental music that needs a bass clarinet. The Chicago-based New Yorker not only specializes in the deep-toned licorice stick, but also seeks to avoid the instrument’s obvious influences in his quest for the extremes. Consequently his woody fluidity frequently extends into bracing harmonics and tonal distortion.He speaks in tongues, though in a distinctive voice, heard to varying effect on two recent discs.
As part of oboist Kyle Bruckmann’s WRACK, Stein contributes to an unusual frontline on Cracked Refraction, completed by the leader and Jen Claire Poulson’s viola. Along with the accomplished pairing of Anton Hatwich (Dave Rempis Percussion Quartet) on bass and Tim Daisy (Vandermark 5) on drums, they move between tightly corralled formations and freewheeling expression in the blink of an eye, fulfilling the demands of Bruckmann’s idiosyncratic compositions, which combine jazz and contemporary classical methods. When Stein steps out it’s still very much within the well-demarcated frameworks of the multi-sectioned pieces, over spritely bass and drums on the title track, amid lurching rhythms and madcap cartoon march tonalities or in a knotty tattoo on the lengthy “Imaginary Caverns”, one of the standout tracks, reminiscent of Anthony Braxton’s Ghost Trance Music in its steady stream of eighth notes and wildly bounding intervals. Bruckmann’s canny arrangements achieve a bigger than expected sound through pitching subsets of the group against one another in multiple layers and tempos. Appropriately enough the concluding “NJBC”, based on a lullaby which Bruckmann sings to his daughter, is the most emotionally direct cut, introduced by Stein at his most reflective and featuring the leader’s vocally inflected oboe and Daisy’s marimba in a sweet conclusion to a set of winningly labyrinthine astringency.
On Next Delusion by Berlin-based saxophonist Boris Hauf, Stein forms part of an even more unconventional lineup. There can be few instrumentations that are completely novel, but three horns matched with three drumsets recalls few precedents. Waxed on one of the German’s regular trips to Chicago, Hauf has assembled a talented crew, though their abilities are almost totally sublimated to the leader’s offbeat conceptions. For much of the time, the three percussionists(Frank Rosaly, Steven Hess and Michael Hartman) are so restrained as to be subliminal and the horns (Keefe Jackson, alongside Stein and Hauf) aren’t much more demonstrative. It’s largely impossible to tell who does what in the four tracks, which defy categorization in their execution of Hauf’s austere and rigorous charts.Dissonant unisons and subdued drones characterize the horn lines, which often sound on a parallel but unconnected track to the rumbling massed drums. Ultimately it’s a curiosity that sounds like nothing else.