This one could almost be a working definition of what Delmark exists for, documenting as it does an aspect of Chicago's seemingly ever-evolving creative improvised music scene and in so doing giving further exposure to a group of musicians surely destined to make an impact far outside the city's environs.
If anything Jackson's writing for this large ensemble is even more telling than that of his work in smaller group contexts, hence from the off the galumphing "Dragon Fly" balances Mingus-like scoring against free blowing without any incongruity and solos by the likes of Jason Stein and Josh Berman serve as examples of how stimulating the musical environment is.
The two elements discussed above are in play again on "The Grass Is Greener." The ensemble is broken down into smaller, seemingly self-contained units, not the least of them being Jackson on tenor sax and drummer Frank Rosaly, and this duo engage in a passage marked by subtle, quick-fire interplay. Again the composed elements of the piece have a certain rhythmic angularity, but it's to Jackson's credit that he's in thrall neither to Thelonious Monk or Herbie Nichols in that regard.
The coherence of the program in that regard is emphasized by "Just Like This" where the leader again shows just how he's coming on as an instrumentalist. His approach to the tenor sax in particular is admirably free of overt influence, whilst there's an element in his sound which calls Clifford Jordan to mind regardless of all the radical differences in setting. James Falzone's bright, lithe clarinet gets an outing on this one too, and the way bass and drums fall in behind him is evidence of how precisely the band is drilled. Any further in that regard and the result might have been only arid sterility; as it is there's urgency of communication tempered by the collective regard for letting the music breathe.
The sly groove of "Wind-Up Toy" is tempered initially by notes that seem to hang in the air before the former asserts itself and Jackson, Berman and Falzone again turn in solos in which self-expression strikes creative balance with the work of the ensemble and the writing provides both framework and stimulus. The resulting issue of tension and release is thus pragmatically resolved, and this in turn is evidence of musical evolution happening in real time.
Personnel: Josh Berman: cornet; Jaimie Branch: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Nick Broste: trombone; Marc Unternahrer: tuba; James Falzone: clarinet; Guillermo Gregorio: alto sax, clarinet; Dave Rempis: alto sax, baritone sax; Jason Stein: bass clarinet; Keefe Jackson: tenor sax, bass clarinet; Anton Hatwich: bass; Frank Rosaly: drums.