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Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter

Dave Wayne By

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Conceived as a continuous seven-part extended work for his band, Bigmouth, the first seven tracks on Chris Lightcap's Epicenter are as remarkable for their diversity as they are for the ways in which they're tied together. The unifying theme here is "New York: Lost and Found," and the music could indeed work as a sort of conceptual portrait of the city's colorful population and little-known, out-of-the-way nooks and crannies.

Lightcap's band, now well into its second decade of existence, has weathered only a couple of personnel changes over the years; just the departure of tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry (replaced by Chris Cheek) and the addition of multi-keyboardist Craig Taborn. All the while, Lightcap's worked with an impressive array of artists from within and without the jazz firmament. Starting out in the early 1990s with Ed Blackwell's quartet, the Latrobe, PA native went on to forge significant musical partnerships with Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Regina Carter and Matt Wilson. He's also worked with singer-songwriter (and actor) Glen Hansard (The Frames, The Swell Season), blues-rocker (and Beck sideman) Smokey Hormel , and surf guitarist Joao Erbetta. The wide sweep of Lightcap's musical interests are in plain view throughout Epicenter, though the music here is firmly, unabashedly, and emphatically part of the jazz world.

As we've seen, long-lived musical associations often bear singular musical fruit. The quintet doesn't just barrel through Lightcap's polystylistic inventions. They really dig down deep into each piece, uncovering hidden nuances. Taborn's use of the Wurlitzer electric piano isn't a nod to fusion or hip-hop; the veteran keyboardist has developed a distinctive approach to the instrument that emphasizes its oddly woody-sounding, harp-like timbre. This is most evident on "Arthur Avenue," a plaintive, slow-moving piece featuring the muezzin cries of the twin tenors over the rambling, pattering rhythm section. The swiftly free-bopping title track dials in a fractured, convoluted, yet gleeful melody that would make Ornette Coleman proud. "Stillwell" has a floating ECM-like quality and a drawn-out, folksy melody that's grounded by a fetching ostinato played in tandem by Taborn and Lightcap. Almost unimaginably tender, "Stone by Stone" literally floats a few feet off the ground, Cheek and Tony Malaby soloing unfettered as the rhythm section coalesces beneath. The overall effect of this piece is not unlike the sound that Alice Coltrane came up with back when she was working with Frank Lowe and Pharoah Sanders. Two shorter pieces, the lovely "Down East" (a bit reminiscent of Kevin Eubanks' work) and the anthemic rocker "White Horse" downplay jazz improvisation, developing very quickly and dissipating like puddles after a brief thunderstorm. Throughout the album, drummer Gerald Cleaver is simply masterful, wringing a dizzying array of sounds, textures, and rhythms out of a relatively simple drum setup.

A wild-and-wooly version of "All Tomorrow's Parties" is Lightcap's coup de chapeau to the late rocker, and long time New York City denizen, Lou Reed. There couldn't possibly be a more fitting epilog to the young bassist's own personal love letter to the city.

Track Listing: Nine South; White Horse; Epicenter; Arthur Avenue; Down East; Stillwell; Stone by Stone; All Tomorrow's Parties.

Personnel: Chris Lightcap: bass, acoustic guitar, organ; Craig Taborn: Wurlitzer, electric piano, piano, organ; Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone; Chris Cheek: tenor saxophone; Gerald Cleaver: drums, percussion.

Title: Epicenter | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Clean Feed Records

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