A lot of people think of New Orleans, my new home city, as the jazz capital of the U.S. But the single thing I miss about Chicago is its jazz. I‚Äôm not talking about the old-timey stuff ‚Äď although that stuff is great ‚Äď but about the progressive scene, continuing on the trajectory charted by AACM greats like Roscoe Mitchell and the recently departed Fred Anderson, then Hal Russell, then Ken Vandermark. At key times, Chicago jazz has intersected with other aspects of the city‚Äôs thriving scene, making for exciting hybrids as in the post-rock of the ‚Äė90s.
For this, it takes adventurous and ultra-talented musicians, but it also takes outside entities ‚Äď the northside Experimental Sound Studio, the Umbrella Music Collective programming several weekly series of jazz and improvisation as well as its own festival, and labels like Brian Labycz‚Äôs Peira imprint ‚Äď to develop the infrastructure to nurture the scene.
Peira‚Äôs fourth release is a case in point. The label is unusually focused, with a stark and consistent visual scheme. This set is impeccably recorded at ESS, another interesting document of the doings of dynamic Chicago improvisers. In this case, it marks a meeting between featuring two from the deep local stable ‚Äď Labycz himself on electronics, and Jason Roebke on bass ‚Äď along with Argentine visitor Guillermo Gregorio on clarinet.
The trio engages in some typically skilled improvisation, rarely veering close to melody, and preferring to keep things abstract. They‚Äôre having a conversation: they get to know each other, circling tensely, sometimes turning their backs on each other, bucking at the occasional flare-up. Along the way a vast array of sometimes brilliant combinations are explored ‚Äď physical manipulations of the bass, surprising electronic excursions (sourced thrillingly at times from Gregorio‚Äôs lines). Roebke‚Äôs bowed bass answering Gregorio‚Äôs dizzying chromatic and nonlinear runs and extended techniques (with Labycz scraping and blipping asides). Although it‚Äôs broken up into tracks, I‚Äôm assuming the disc is arranged chronologically ‚Äď the development of musical personality over 50 minutes is striking.
The tenth release steps out further, with a trio anchored by Chicago bassoonist/electronicist Katherine Young and also featuring Ivan Naranjo and Maria Stankova on electronics (and Stankova on voice). The result is just as abstract, with very little unprocessed playing on Young‚Äôs part. This makes the mostly very minimal, 12-minute ‚ÄúSeptiembre Cinco‚ÄĚ stand out with sustained bassoon and feedback notes, acoustic beating, and voice experimentations.
The eleventh showcases the strong European ties of the Chicago improv scene in a duo between Chicago cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and Swedish drummer Ramond Strid, recorded during a Lonberg-Holm visit to Sweden. This one is more musical and purely acoustic. It‚Äôs also potentially the least interesting of the Peira trio. Strid mostly employs fairly typical skittery non-rhythmic kit-baiting, along with plenty of bowls and other tools. Lonberg-Holm stays mostly musical, playing atonally and in dissonant double-stops, but there isn‚Äôt too much of a climax or new territory to be found ‚Äď the two bow and scrape for awhile, so to speak, and that‚Äôs it. Compared to another Peira release documenting Lonberg-Holm‚Äôs dynamic improvisations with Aaron Zarzutzki (my Foxy review here), this is quite flat in comparison. I don‚Äôt want to blame this on Strid only ‚Äď the recording here is very dry, panning cello hard right and drums hard left, so part of what‚Äôs missing is a sense of interaction. Perhaps there‚Äôs a lesson here on the delicacy of recording these meetings well, and an implicit argument for seeing them live.
Generally though, there‚Äôs a lot to be excited about in this scene. There‚Äôs little ego in the playing, a sidelong relationship with melodicism. It‚Äôs meditative, abstract expressionist. It‚Äôs highly skilled work as well ‚Äď these excellent musicians employ a world-class grab bag of techniques as their innovative period continues.
Gregorio, Roebke, Labycz Trio, ‚ÄúColectivos‚ÄĚ CD
Naranjo, Stankova, Young Trio, ‚ÄúVerdure Into Onyx‚ÄĚ CD
Lonberg-Holm, Strid Duo, ‚ÄúDiscus And Plumbing‚ÄĚ CD