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Jon Lundbom's Big Five Chord: No New Tunes

Dave Wayne By

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Certainly not straight-ahead jazz, decidedly not fusion, and not really free-jazz either, guitarist/composer Jon Lundbom and his Big Five Chord have taken a decidedly idiosyncratic path that simultaneously eschews and embraces all of these sub-genres, while largely rejecting their collective stylistic baggage. This judiciously iconoclastic individualism is what one can expect from Lundbom, a musician whose activities encompass indie rock (with Wolf and the Wayside), avant-garde classical music, and in-depth jazz-based investigations of the music of singer/songwriters Merle Haggard, Rufus Wainwright, and Tom Waits. It's a little surprising, then, that No New Tunes, Big Five Chord's fifth album—available in either digital download or 12" vinyl form— hews somewhat closer to the free-bop end of the spectrum than its previous efforts. And it's a no less rewarding or inspiring listen.

The band's membership has remained pretty stable for the past few years, and the musical chemistry at work throughout No New Tunes is readily palpable. The only personnel shift since 2009's Accomplish Jazz (Hot Cup) has been the departure of drummer Danny Fischer. Here, he's quite ably replaced by Dan Monaghan who, like Lundbom, is comfortable and creative in any sort of musical setting. His slow-drag pile-driver beat underneath the tidal pull of Moppa Elliott's irresistible double-time bass line makes "The Other Third One" a wholly remarkable experience. Along with Lundbom, saxophonists Jon Irabagon and Bryan Murray form one of the most explosive frontline combinations in modern jazz today, outside of label-mates Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Speaking of MOPDtK, bassist Elliott also holds down the bass chair in that stellar quartet. Here, he seems a little freer and less constrained to a support role. His duet with Lundbom on the album's sole ballad, "And Be Made Visible (Part 1)," displays a depth, warmth, and virtuosity that might be overlooked in the hurly-burly of MOPDtK's fervid explorations.

Lundbom, a native Chicagoan who has studied with guitarists Ben Monder, Jack Wilkins and John Scofield, is a wildly unpredictable and aggressive soloist. Occasionally there's a soupçon of Scofield's bluesy phrasing, something especially evident on "The Bad! Thing." The frantic rapid fire stutters and manic strumming on "Talent for Surrender" brings edgier players such as James Blood Ulmer and Sonny Sharrock to mind. On "The Other Third One," Lundbom waxes both brainy and raucous, stopping just short of heavy metal shredding. Both saxophonists have plenty of opportunity to shine and stretch out, though their most remarkable playing may actually be the duet that closes out the swift 6/8 hard-bopping "The Bad! Thing." Here, Irabagon, on soprano, and Murray, on balto (an alto fitted with a baritone mouthpiece), twist and skirl around one another, thrillingly raising the improvisational ante right up to the piece's abrupt end.

Despite its self-deprecating insider-joke title, No New Tunes virtually crackles with excitement and, well, newness.

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