You can tell this book by the cover. The dull steel blue, the framed papery textures, the conservative font, each letter out of contrast and nearly illegible. From the very beginning, it's pretty damn obvious that you aren't likely to be able to discriminate the voices that make up the Boxhead Ensemble. Pay the price, reap the rewards.
I'm not going to pretend I can tell you who is doing what here, and I'm not going to pretend I care. The point of the (all-star) BE, best I can tell, is to paint a landscape in greyand flesh out certain hills and lakes in blue, just enough so they stand out. You might imagine one of those nature movies where the camera slowly pans the surf and the leaves and the water and the clouds, and you'll be pretty close. Don't get out of your chair; you'll only want to sit down again.
There's been an interesting movement in the ambient/Americana department of the jazz school which has drawn music toward buoyantly lush, soft textures, simple harmonies and gently flowing melodies. Look at what Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny have done in recent years, and that sound of the heartland has become pretty obvious. Chicago's Boxhead Ensemble (of seven players, mostly on strings) rides on reverberance, simple resolving melodies, and a relaxed pace that ambles without ever rushing or pausing, but never shies from detail. Quartets "One" through "Eight" flow by like a river, bringing along softness and peace. Everyone likes to use the word "pastoral." Sure, whatever.
If you're allergic to peace, get lost. If you have a soft spot for the echo that never ends, tune in. Speaking as an open-minded listener, I cannot recommend this record strongly enough to new bearers of the flag. Strings are made to reverberate.
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Personnel: Jessica Billey, Michael Colligan, Ryan Hembrey, Glenn Kotche, Michael Krassner, Fred
Lonberg-Holm, Scott Tuma: various instruments.