Friday, August 14, 2015

CD Review: Jon Lundbom's Big Five Chord - Jeremiah

Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord
(Hot Cup)

Another in a continuing list of albums that have been sitting around for several months that I've been meaning to write about because you need to hear them.....

By now, guitarist Jon Lundbom should be getting more extensive attention. I've reviewed two of his Big Five Chord albums on this blog, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that Jeremiah is actually his seventh album with the band, which dates back to 2003. (Not only was I late to the party. A few slipped past me in between those that I've heard.) That doesn't even take into account his other projects of various styles and shapes, which can be found on the Hot Cup website.

Lundbom plays and writes like a guy who's digested a lot of different styles and can draw on them easily without being too obvious or referential with them. Big Five Chord again includes Mostly Other People Do the Killing's Jon Irabagon (strictly on soprano saxophone this time) and Moppa Elliot (bass) along with Bryan Murray (tenor and balto! saxophones) and drummer Dan Monaghan. Several tracks also add Justin Wood (alto saxophone, flute) and Sam Kulik (trombone). All of these players fit into Lundbom's vision where strong post-bop melodies and rich voicings co-mingle with solos that aren't afraid to kick up a cloud of dust.

This time around, Lundbom the leader cedes a lot of the solo space to his bandmates rather that building the songs around himself. There are notable exceptions, the biggest coming in opener "The Bottle," where his warm tone floats counter to Monaghan's loose pulse. Lundbom's solo also offers contrast after a theme that sounds a bit Dolphy-esque due to the sharp blend of the tenor and soprano saxes. It's one of those fascinating solos in which the guitar unleashes a long series of ideas without pausing for nearly a minute. But the guitar solo is a brief calm before Murray's solo on the balto! sax, an alto furnished with a baritone sax mouthpiece that gives certain notes a squall like an angry bird. (If you're curious to found out what it's all about, Murray provides insight in this video.)

Big Five Chord can play it loud and wild but they have a lush quality as well. Wood and Kulik each contribute an arrangement of a tradition Wiccan song. "First Harvest" (arranged by Wood) sounds like a ballad and wonders how would Ellington handle such a challenge. He and Murray each turn in smart, uncharted solos that elevate the music, the latter with the other horns supporting him.

Kulik's "Wiccan Prayer Song Medley" lives up to its name, as all the horns layer different prayer melodies on top of one other. It begins with Monaghan and Murray playing a melody in repetition, joined by Kulik and eventually the rest of the band. It sounds dense but never busy, some of the best moments coming when Irabagon and Lundbom skirt around the rest of the band. Elliot gets a chance for a solo that contains some vicious double-stop strums that ultimately lead back into the themes.

Jeremiah includes plenty of wilder moments too. Most notable is Kulik's three-minute solo that begins "Lick Skillet." Someday it will be revered a study in the nuances of "extended technique," as it begins softly like a helicopter off in the distance, building to impressively long growls and some flatulent (why not?) gasps. Wood also gets a chance to show off his flute skills, playing with a tone that can only be described as muscular, which also needs to be heard more often.

A jazz pundit (I honestly don't remember who) once said that Kind of Blue is a great place to start listening to jazz not only because of the program, but because everyone who played on that album went on to different things on their own, making it easy to discover more about jazz. The same thing can be said about all of the names on Jeremiah. Some of them are already pretty well known (Irabagon, Elliot) while others should be. Everyone here is cutting new paths for modern improvisation. They aren't bowing down to the past, but they aren't ignoring it either. If the conservatories churn out more wide-eyed musicians like these guys, who are able to release albums on their own labels, the future of this music will be in really good shape.

Or maybe it's just that Lundbom is a really dynamic leader and catalyst. In either case, his time has come. Jump on this bandwagon.

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