A strong meeting of four of Chicago's leading improvisers, Scrawl is tenor saxophonist Jake Wark's second disc as a leader, after 2016's Tremor (Amalgam Music), which featured the talents of drummer Phillip Haynes and bassist Drew Gress. The Chicago scene has long had a collectivist spirit, and it's on display here, as clarinetist Angel Bat Dawid, bassist Jakob Heinemann, and drummer Adam Shead bring their undeniable camaraderie to bear on five engaging Wark compositions.
Wark's biting sound has a piquant acidity, and it contrasts nicely with Dawid's sweeter tone; the two possess a terrific synergy on the opener, "Content Launch," a spirited, expansive piece that holds together well despite its loose-knit character, giving the four players plenty of room to maneuver. There is also an intrinsic ebb and flow to the cut, with fervid moments alternating with a more restrained quietude. It's a substantial cut at over eleven minutes, but it doesn't feel too long, as the piece's intrinsic momentum and wide emotional range work in its favor.
"Adjournment" takes the energy down a couple notches, with a poignant beauty that reveals Wark's lyrical sensibility. There's an almost hymn-like quality to the piece's opening melody, and Dawid and Wark inhabit a spiritual space that is quite compelling, with Dawid's own ecstatic vocalizations reaching for transcendence. "Campfire" has an even more open feel, with the quartet's communicative abilities fully realized, and with Heinemann getting an opportunity to carry out separate dialogues with Wark and Dawid.
"Thistles" and "Screed" both continue the album's prevailing spirit, with infectious, folk-like themes and abundant space for individual expression. Shead is ideal for this music, able to keep the music moving while generally avoiding a confining pulse, and with an innate musicality to his own contributions; witness his colorful work on "Thistles," where he roams over the kit in conversation with Heinemann, and in which he elevates the intensity dramatically toward the end of the track. The record's most invigorating track is undoubtedly the closer, as the collective improvisation on "Screed" is further evidence of the band's inherent chemistry and its ability to explore multiple moods, as the piece veers from wild energy to tranquil reverie.
With a compelling group dynamic and Wark's well-honed compositional voice, Scrawl is a testament to what an effective musical partnership can provide, as well as another strong representation of Chicago's ever-fertile avant-garde community.
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