In performance over the course of an hour at the Chicago Cultural Center on April 8, celebrating the release of their recent CD Cipher (Delmark), the Josh Abrams Quartet explored the presence and absence of sound through subtle implications, the nuances of individual instruments, original voicings, and group interplay. Taking the stage with the same softshoe grace and delicate wariness that comes across in their improvisations, Abrams took his position at the center, softly bowing and massaging the strings of his acoustic bass, generating the faintest of sounds, while local hero Jeff Parker sat to his left with his electric guitar resting on his knee. Parker coaxed equally feathery, barely detectable notes by hammering on and tenderly waving his guitar's neck, tapping his pedals and twisting knobs to achieve his precisely desired tones. To the right of Abrams two nattily dressed, thoughtful looking men tentatively reached for what they felt and heard to be the right horn at the right time, timing their entries into each composition like a young girl finding her spot in the middle of two alternately twirling jump ropes. Trumpeter Alex Dörner, opening on slide trumpet, employed every note-bending and tone-shifting apparatus at his disposal, including a wide array of mutes, to achieve the appropriate tones. Guillermo Giorgio, on clarinet and alto, interjected with pops, clicks, and runs up and down the keys.
As the program progressed, each player asserted his own personality. Abrams seems to have abandoned his funky beginnings with The Roots, but his pizzicato work was arguably more stirring than his arco. For one brief section, Abrams held beaded netting with his left hand while it moved up and down the strings, creating an otherworldly hypnotic buzz. Dörner would create a steady gurgling through his horn, circular breathing for the length of a tune. Giorgio took the lead for one piece, signaling to the band with his hands as they reached their most raucous crescendo. Often it was the horn players standing shoulder to shoulder doubling on notes while the bass and guitar conversed, commenting on the proceedings as if a Greek chorus of two.
The Josh Abrams Quartet is deadly serious about their art. But as each member acted and reacted, conjuring sounds that existed from moment to moment in relation to another, first grins would appear, until by the resolution of the last piece the grins had turned to laughter. For the large and appreciative audience at this "Adventures in Jazz" event, the feeling of delight never faltered.
For more information on upcoming performances showcasing new and improvised music visit www.chicagoculturalcenter.org .