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Industrial Jazz Group: The Star Chamber

Chris May By

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The Industrial Jazz Group was formed in '00 by pianist/composer Andrew Durkin as a sort of (very sort of) Art Ensemble of Chicago. But whereas AEC set out to celebrate the relatively focused and well-defined macro-genre "Great Black Music," Durkin's IJG includes all modern music in its sights, from Edgar Varese and Olivier Messiaen through George Russell and Bernard Herrmann to Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus. This is the band's third album, and its second for American Composers Forum's Innova label.

It all looks interesting enough, written down like that—and IJG has some strong soloists, and Durkin is undoubtedly well-intentioned, and he has his politics in the right place—but overall the music is a disappointment. Durkin's approach is too relentlessly earnest and too self-consciously post-modern "clever" to engage the listener on an emotional level. Much of the time, his compositions and arrangements (he writes all the material) sound like academic exercises—fussy, inelegant and over-mannered in their stylistic inclusivity.

The band's website notes, with approval, that one listener wrote in describing its music as "Thelonious Monk goes to the circus drunk." Not so, sadly. If it sounds like Monk at all, and it does a bit, occasionally, it's more like Monk goes to the circus straight (and then only to find it has left town).

It is, by the by, appropriate that IJG is released through the American Composers Forum. ACF is as concerned with outreach projects as it is with enabling artists, and in their field funding and outreach/community work are often inextricably conjoined. A foundation may give an artist a seemingly generous grant but require that 95% of it is spent on outreach activities, rather than being available for the artist to spend as s/he deems most useful: taking time out to create a new work, expanding the band's lineup, or buying large quantities of very strong drugs—all entirely valid artistic decisions.

While I hesitate to suggest that Durkin go out and fry his brain, he might benefit from taking some time out, trying to get in touch with a less mechanistic and more organic compositional process, and then going into the rehearsal studio again. He has the technique; now he needs to reach his soul.


Track Listing: The Star Chamber; A Thousand Times No; Drippy; Gross Fugue; Little Owen; Schwarzkopf Takes The "C" For Flagstad; Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboy Presidents.

Personnel: Evan Francis, alto saxophone, flute; Cory Wright, tenor and soprano saxophones; Beth Schenck, alto and soprano saxophones, flute; Kris Tiner, trumpet; Phil Rodriguez, trumpet; Garrett Smith, trombone; Aaron McLendon, drums; Aaron Kohen, bass; Andrew Durkin, piano, compositions, conducting.

Title: The Star Chamber | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Innova Recordings

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