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The Dude Abides

Mark Corroto By

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To paraphrase Jeffrey Lebowski, aka The Dude (or El Dudarino, if you are not into the brevity thing), "I've had a rough night, and I hate the fucking Grateful Dead, man." Actually, The Dude said the "Eagles" (and I guess I'm obliged to agree with him), but for me the Dead seem to always get under my skin.

Someone is always saying to me, "you dig jazz, check out this Dead concert from..." and then they name some date and muddy field somewhere. I usually listen out of courtesy, or because I'm sitting on their sofa, and I try to like the Dead. I really do.

It is just not possible.

The answer to this dilemma might just be Sun Ra. You see, back in the 1980s I heard Sun Ra's Arkestra live in a small club in Columbus, Ohio. It was a life changing experience and one of the most memorable nights of music I've ever witnessed. I soon began accumulating Sun Ra recordings to recapture that magic. Two hundred or so discs later and I never have. Recordings just cannot capture the communal experience of a live show. So, maybe it's the same thing for Dead fans. The recordings cannot replicate the event, but they might just trigger some dopamine center in their brains.

So what does that leave us with? I'm certainly not ready to chuck my CD and LP collection and roam the earth like David Carradine from that 1970s TV show Kung Fu in search of live music. I will, and maybe you should also, pledge to get out of the house and catch a live show every chance you can.

Keefe Jackson's Likely So
A Round Goal
Delmark Records
2013

The Chicago saxophonist, via Fayetteville, Keefe Jackson delivers an 'old soul' recording with A Round Goal, a live 2013 date from the Jazzwerkstatt Festival in Berne, Switzerland. The old soul referred to is that of AACM composers and saxophonists Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill. Jackson, a principal of the new breed of Chicago improvisers assembled a 7-piece all-reed ensemble to perform his compositions. His music consists of highly structured parts and wildly free improvisational passages.

Like Braxton and Threadgill, Jackson encourages his band, Likely So, to extend the range of their instruments, pushing the limits of sound while maintaining a discipline to the various structures he constructs. Likely So is made up of fellow Chicagoans Mars Williams and Dave Rempis, Polish Clarinetist Waclaw Zimplel and the Swiss players Thomas K.J. Mejer, Peter Schmid, and Marc Stucki.

Like a saxophone quartet or a doo-wop band, Jackson arranges intricate, sometimes bluesy passages, for improvisors to glide over. His "Overture" opens the disc with a Braxton-like collage of sound, stacking marches, Gershwin parts, and cartoon songs into a rich garden of sound. The combination of reeds and their varying tones, from sopranino to contrabass saxophones and alto clarinet to bass clarinets elevates and enlivens the music, making the music sound like a saxophone quartet on steroids.

Jonah Parzen- Johnson
Look Like You're Not Looking
Primary Records
2013

Baritone saxophonist Jonah Parzen-Johnson follows up his solo disc Michiana (Primary Records, 2012) with Look Like You're Not Looking, a 7" vinyl EP pressed as a limited edition of 350 (also available as a download). The two tracks, both clocking in at 4:16, showcase his baritone saxophone experimentations. Like Mats Gustafsson and Colin Stetson, Parzen-Johnson is a master of the big horn, the baritone saxophone. He opens the title track with an a cappella blues riff that expands via electronics and his own overblowing into a chorus of sound before returning to his initial theme. His music, more traditional than avant, expresses an organic mushrooming of sound. He expresses a folk music for a new tribe of people, one that has access to new technologies and uses them as opposed to being used by them. The flip side delivers "Stay There, I'll Come To You" another simple song that gets layered with overblown multiphonics and layered electronic manipulation. His vocalizations and breath maintain the story here, a small treasure of a recording.

August Rosenbaum
Heights
Hiatus
2013

Misidentifying the latest solo recording by Danish pianist August Rosenbaum as an ECM Records release is both a blessing and a curse. Heights, his second solo record, follows Beholder (Hiatus, 2010) and expands his sound adding instruments and electronics into the mix. The opener "Bloomer," a cinematic vision begins with some electronic noodles that give way to a meditative composition that is revealed by way of piano, some dark and woody bass and the interlaced guitar streams of Joel Gjærbøl and Jakob Bro. Rosenbaum's pieces grow organically from his simple conceptions. Maybe it is the Nordic element that calls to mind the sounds favored by Manfred Eicher, but the ECM vibe is strong here.

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