Edgefest 2018: The Chicago Connection

Troy Dostert By

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The evening moved in a dramatically different direction with guitarist Kirsten Carey 's Uruboros Sextet, as the group offered tightly-structured, complex music with a distinctly punk rock-feel. Carey wasn't shy in commanding the stage, even at times shouting out "1-2-3-4" to lead the band through her heady arrangements, which emphasized a well-honed group sound rather than highlighting individual soloists. This is not to say that the musicianship wasn't first rate, as the sextet offered an infectious, driving energy with heavy riffs and knotty time signatures combining with Carey's distorted chords to create something that was neither jazz, nor rock, but something all its own. Short, well-conceived (and wryly-named) pieces like "Godzilla is Coming, But Very Slowly" or "Just as I Think I Might be Financially Stable" kept lots of heads bobbing during the group's set. Carey announced that she's seeking Kickstarter funding for a project to record this music, and it will be exciting to see the results sometime in the near future.

The middle set of Friday night belonged to a group whose Chicago-based AACM credentials are undeniable: flutist Nicole Mitchell, drummer Mike Reed and Tomeka Reid's Artifacts Trio. Their first self-titled recording (482 Music, 2015) was a widely-hailed homage to the AACM tradition, and their performance at Edgefest bore ample testimony to the group's contagious, ear-grabbing sound. The Reed/Reid axis was perfect in anchoring air-tight grooves that allowed Mitchell ample room for her prowess, with scintillating solos that were consistently energetic and adventurous. Reid was able to reveal yet another dimension of her talents, as she largely played the role of bass accompaniment here, with walking lines that were fast and precise. And Reed's instincts as a drummer are unfailing, with support that is by turns feisty, supple and colorful. With melodies that are as strong as their grooves, this is an exceptional trio, and with an upcoming recording project in the works for 2019, a lot of critics will likely be keeping a slot available in next year's top-ten list for it.

Anyone wondering if a bass clarinet can generate as much raw force as a tenor saxophone (or any other instrument, for that matter) need only listen to Jason Stein's Hearts and Minds trio. Unlike the more tempered approach Stein displayed on his recent Lucille! (Delmark, 2017), with its updated cool-school vibe, Hearts and Minds is determined to lock in to a hard-driving groove, with drummer Chad Taylor's percolating mix of rhythms a constant feature, and keyboardist Paul Giallorenzo's fluid left hand holding the bass line while pounding out some punchy riffs with his right. With stunning upper-register control, Stein's work on the bass clarinet is riveting, but he also revealed a strong melodic sensibility toward the end of the set with a lovely ballad. Even so, this trio is all about the energy, and the enthusiastic Edgefest audience loved every minute of it.

One of the most talked-about debuts of 2017, trumpeter Jaimie Branch's Fly or Die (International Anthem) offered a compelling mix of catchy grooves and more abstract, atmospheric playing, and her group performed most of the album as Friday night's headliner. Chad Taylor remained in the drumseat while cellist Lester St Louis and bassist Anton Hatwich assumed those duties held by Tomeka Reid and Jason Ajemian, respectively, on the original record. Despite the different personnel, however, this quartet certainly lived up to expectations. Whether dialed into Taylor's deep rhythms or taking the music into much more unexplored territory, the group possessed an unmistakable sense of purpose, and Branch's impressive technique was fully on display. Played live, with more room to stretch out, the band's music was even more engaging than the recorded version, and the crowd responded heartily to it. With a background as deeply rooted in indie rock as avant-garde jazz, Branch is ideally poised to continue to breathe new life into this music, and the presence of the decidedly more youthful audience members who were on hand for this performance bodes well as a new generation of listeners is introduced to the pleasures of improvised music.


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