One of the central figures of Chicago's thriving jazz scene, bassist Matt Ulery
has cultivated fruitful relationships with a core of compatriots who embody the grit and beauty of the music coming out of the Windy City. He maintains a host of projects, one of the foremost being Delicate Charms, a group that released its self-titled debut in 2019 on Woolgathering Records; alto saxophonist Greg Ward
, pianist Rob Clearfield
, drummer Quin Kirchner
and violinist Zach Brock
assist Ulery in creating a distinctive chamber-like jazz which is both melodically rich and dynamically inventive. The group's name is well-chosen, with a subtlety in its approach which can be quite compelling. But, on Live at the Green Mill
, the band's follow-up, a couple of personnel changes and the added energy of a live audience have taken the music to another level of excitement. Sure, it might be a little less delicate, but what it gains is a feisty vigor which is more than welcome.
The new additions here are Paul Bedal
, replacing Clearfield on the piano, and James Davis
on trumpet instead of Brock's violin; Davis' presence may make the bigger difference, as he brings a tougher edge to the music than Brock, who was so pivotal in creating the reserved chamber aesthetic of the debut. Moreover, the two-horn harmonies between Davis and Ward are often riveting, providing another dimension to Ulery's expansive compositions. The bassist's characteristic lyricism is still here in abundance, as in the winding melody of the opener, "We Are Just at the Limit," for instance, or the positively gorgeous "That Hideous Strength." But there is more fire here, with an urgency which was missing previously. Maybe the live setting is the game-changer; after long months of relative inactivity during the COVID pandemic, simply getting in front of a crowd would be enough to excite any musician. And the appreciative audience at the Green Mill, treated to two nights of the band in April and May 2021, is more than engaged throughout these performances, frequently voicing its approval with each searing horn statement or thunderous piano burst.
Special mention must be made of Kirchner, whose pugnacity emerges fully here, especially noticeable on the longer cuts, such as the almost fifteen-minute "The Arrival." The piece exhibits a seething, simmering tension which continually threatens to break open, and Kirchner is invaluable, able to navigate the piece's sinuous structure and shifting grooves with aplomb, catalyzing the band expertly from start to finish; when he locks in with Ulery and Bedal, one can almost feel the mood in the club heighten in anticipation, and Ward and Davis are always at the ready to elevate the music even higher.
With Live at the Green Mill
, Ulery has achieved the perfect realization of his vision for this band, one that still possesses a rarefied tunefulness, but which also embodies the raw energy of the best jazz. And it makes one other thing clearcatch Ulery and his associates live, if at all possible, to hear them at their absolute best.
We Are Just at the Limit; Oceans Away; The Arrival; Undertow; That Hideous Strength; Consumer of Time.