Bassists leading mid-size bands inevitably bring to mind the trail-blazing precedent established by Charles Mingus
. Others like Dave Holland
, Barry Guy
and Adam Lane
followed. To that roster can be added bassist Jason Roebke
, one of the stalwarts of the productive Chicago scene. Cinema Spiral
constitutes the sophomore effort by his Octet, following on from High/Red/Center
(Delmark, 2014). He reunites the same raft of Windy City flair as on the debut outing for a continuous suite demarcated into seven parts with thematic material shared across the cuts.
Voluble polyphony appears the outfit's calling card, with group interchange favored above discrete solo spots. The eight musicians are subsumed into Roebke's concept in which the compositional elements tend to be purposefully obscure, as one or two instruments sketch out written lines within the ongoing conversational interplay. But of course there are occasions where individuals assume prominence, with Jason Adasiewicz
's radiant vibes and Jason Stein
's fluttering bass clarinet particularly well represented. Roebke's choice of vibes to underpin the ensemble reflects what a compelling presence Adasiewicz has become, and means that the realization of the charts remains harmonically open and allows the simultaneous invention to thrive unconstrained.
In the opening "Looking directly into the camera" a series of portentous block chords, which recurs at intervals throughout the album, introduces Roebke's pizzicato bass unaccompanied to set out his stall, before gentle meditation with vibes and horns. Later the ballad style "For a Moment" features Josh Berman
's languid trumpet pontifications. In general Roebke keeps the handbrake on, leading to a program notable for considered rather than high energy exchanges. The exception comes in "People Laughing" where the horns quarrel over choppy rhythm before order gradually asserts itself, as the Stein continues his overblown chunter.
Although Jeb Bishop
ruminates prettily on the fast swinging "Waiting," while the other horns flank him in unison, it's not until the final "L'acmé" that a joyful sweeping melody emerges from the horn give and take. Greg Ward
's sour sweet alto saxophone proposes attractive counterpoint and leads to some garrulous interaction, before the piece concludes with the leader's quiet plucked musings accompanied by Adasiewicz's chiming vibes, in an echo of the initial gambit. If there was a cinematic equivalent, it might be an experimental documentary, though one which makes its point without strong narrative or heightened drama.
Looking directly into the camera; Focusing; For a Moment; Getting High; People Laughing; Waiting; L'acmé
Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Keefe Jackson: tenor, sopranino saxophones, contrabass clarinet; Jason Stein: bass clarinet; Josh Berman: trumpet; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Jason Adasiewicz: vibes; Jason Roebke: bass; Mike Reed: drums.