Bassist Jason Ajemian and his ensemble Smokeless Heat add to the continuing legacy of Chicago improv with The Art of Dying, an intimate reflection on collective musical ideals featuring drummer Noritaka Tanaka and tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman. For much of the session, the group is augmented by Matt Schneider (guitar), Jamie Branch (trumpet) and Jason Adasiewicz (marimba).
Ajemian (Chicago Underground Trio, Lay All Over It, Born Heller) is a bassist of indefinable sophistication. His sound, whether pizzicato or arco, is rich, flexible and commanding, albeit supportive and facilitating to the creative output of his musicians.
Tanaka works hand-in-hand with Ajemian through the numerous mood swings found on the disc. The dynamic drummer can swing with finesse and drive his point home with bombast and clarity.
Haldeman displays touching lyricism on his breathy ballad "Miss O," unrelenting momentum on the brief "9 Car," and an adeptness for motivic development on the freed-up swinger "U're the Guy (Keith Wood)." The saxophonist has a uniquely captivating tenor tone, especially on the trio pieces with Ajemian and Noritaka ("Your Shirts" and "Smokeless Heat").
Schneider emulates, rather convincingly, the swinging style of Barney Kessel on his composition "With or Without the Universalator (Birdie's Dream)." The guitarist's lilting ride through "Miss O" showcases his ability to patiently explore the ins-and-outs of a compositional outline, at once deliberate and spontaneous.
Branch's soft-spoken treatment of the melody on "Machine Gun Operator" creates a tense vibe that is propelled by Ajemian's looping bass figure, fitting perfectly with Tanaka's dark backbeat. The lengthy "Smokeless Heat," taken from a 2006 radio appearance on WMSE, Milwaukee, features the core trio of Ajemian, Tanaka and Haldeman sorting through a varied assortment of sonic textures, completely in-the-moment, yet unhurriedly fine-tuned.
Throughout the entire disc there is an overriding sense of community heard within. The communicative spirit of the performers leads to an intriguing listening experience, overflowing with warmth.
Personnel: Jason Ajemian: bass; Tim Haldeman: tenor saxophone; Noritaka Tanaka: drums; Jamie Branch: trumpet; Matt
Schneider: guitar; Jason Adasiewicz: marimba.