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Chicago Luzern Exchange - Several Lights

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Artist: Chicago Luzern Exchange

Album: Several Lights

Label: Delmark

Review date: May. 11, 2005

While the work of Chicago free jazz faculty like Ken Vandermark has at times displayed the dynamic restraint of an unmanned fire hose, young lions Josh Berman (cornet), Keefe Jackson (tenor saxophone), and Frank Rosaly (drums) dim down the lights on their Delmark debut, allowing Luzern exchange student Marc Unternährer adequate space for his tuba. Stripped of the rhythmic obligations of the scary, old “oompah” role, these giants of the brass family can take up quite a bit of room.

Instead, Berman and Jackon take the polka-dotted path on several outings, including “Soon Enough” and “A Little Paler.” The latter, in what may be this collection's most overt fit of irony, opens with close-mic'd wheezing as the three horn players dip their toes into a cold improvisational pond, evoking images of not pale faces but a resolute purple: pale is the color of my true love's albuterol inhaler. Drummer Rosaly, as deft with details as he is tough, sits out on this track and a few others, but creeps back in on the rest of these takes with a methodical vengeance. His compositional flair, so tangible in recent performances with the Dave Rempis Percussion Quartet, brings order to the honking and squeaking that occasionally threaten to overtake a few of the experiments on Several Lights.

And experiments, some of these certainly are: “Skidding” begins with the onomatopoetics of the three horn players, a sonic semblance of small craft wheels scraping their rubber treads on a gravelly tarmac. The end of the short piece, however, fizzles in a tangle of wheezing surrender, leaving a small mark as the album's least pleasant moment. However, amid the stew of bodily function sounds so faithfully reproduced, Unternährer shares what might be his signature chop: short, staccato pops of bass that sound more like an electric bass slap than they do anything used in marching band.

A few of the songs on Several Lights sport a modal serenity that contrasts sharply with the frenetic downtown energy of much Chicago output, and songs like these, particularly “Someone came and took one of yours and left one of his,” showcase the promise of this European-American summit as the combined talents and heritages come to fruition. Other moments, including Jackson's and Rosaly's solos, pepper the affair with reminders of the individual contributions of each player. Best of all, and perhaps owing to Griffin Rodriguez's warm production, Several Lights stands as a conversation between players who joined in a one-off exchange and magically sounded like an ensemble.

By Andy Freivogel

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