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From nowhere comes the radically creative music of Tomato Box. (Madison Wisconsin, nowhere?) Yes Virginia, Madison Wisconsin is nowhere close to New York geographically (it’s not too long of a drive from Chicago, just pack some coins for the automated toll booths and some Old Style beer). But Wisconsin’s Tomato Box is all over Downtown sonically. Pairing a front line of marimba and saxophone, drummer Michael Brenneis’ compositions are simultaneously poised and free. They rewrite Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” on the track “South Dakota” with the eased introductory lines painting a relaxed vision. Brenneis blurs the space between sticks and hands, locomoting with brushes and soft rolls as saxophonist John Keech explores the lyrics. Things always seem to return to Geoff Brady’s marimba, an instrument not foreign to jazz, just one not featured so prominently. His mallets-to-wood place a strong identifiable stamp on this recording, signaling this new music to be bigger than jazz, or to be more specific, theirs is jazz that includes larger worlds (read non-Western sounds). On “Shake The Apparatus” the band creates a humming backdrop (almost a digeridoo sound) for the percussion discussions of leader Brenneis. They follow that with a sort of Steve Reich tribute on “Pockets Of Distorted Time” with the mechanical beats of a Reichian machine that deconstructs as entropy takes over.
Saxophonist John Keech comes at you from the Davis Murray meets Arthur Blythe bag as the timekeeper, bassist Henry Boehm, rarely plays in straight time. The band favors the free principles of exploration as on “Continuity,” which wanders a bit for ideas before settling into a disheveled groove. But they are also fluent in the post-bop language, flexing their chopped suey on “The Syndicate” and the soul-fueled “Hidden Message In Jazz.”
Tomato Box reminds me of the transitions jazz has made over the years from the New Orleans bands to Satchmo’s solos, from danceable swing to mind walking bebop, from composed pieces to freedom. Each subsequent evolution carries the entirety of the past as prologue to the future. Tomato Box opts not for the cheese of dairyland or Wynton-wannabes but for a unique future. tomatobox.com
Track Listing: Born With Style; The Syndicate; South Dakota; Visions In Chartreuse; Shake The Apparatus; Pockets Of Distorted Time; Continuity; Hidden Messages In Jazz; Empty Pages.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.