Wednesday, July 13, 2016

CD Reviews: Jon Lundbom's Big Five Chord - Three EPs

Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord
Make The Magic Happen
Bring Their 'A' Game
Play All the Notes

Jon Lundbom doesn't stop, churning out a new release practically every year. And why should he, since the 13-year old Big Five Chord, which has maintained a steady lineup within that whole time, continues to do exciting things with the guitarist's sometimes audacious compositions. Along with Lundbom, the group features Moppa Elliot (bass), Jon Irabagon (alto saxophone), Balto Exclamationpoint (the nomme de squonk of Bryan Murray, explanation forthcoming) (tenor, prepared tenor and balto! saxophones) and Dan Monaghan (drums).

So far this year, the quintet has released three EPs, which each have three tracks - two Lundbom pieces and one Ornette Coleman tune. One more EP will be released in September. Each is currently available digitally from Lundbom's website, or they can be pre-ordered and bundled in either a digital pack or in a physical pack, which comes in a boxed set. If the idea of four EPs rather than a disc or two seems frivolous, keep in mind that this is almost a two-hour set that works well in succinct blasts. The format also allows the chance to hear Big Five Chord explore their different moods. 

Make the Magic Happen reveals the band's sly qualities. In this case, putting a classic bebop element right under the listener's nose where the connection could be missed. The rhythm section in "Ain't Cha" sounds like understated funk (which it is) but Elliot's vamp comes from the intro to "All the Things You Are" that is virtually connected to the song, thanks to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. In front of them, the saxes lead together and Lundbom comps and adds countermelody. Then Mr. Exclamationpoint (Murray, that is) steps up with his balto! saxophone, an alto fashioned with a baritone mouthpiece. The horn set-up lets certain notes through cleanly, while others overload, and our hero exploits them for all their worth. Lundbom follows with a distorted solo that builds in intensity, while bass and drums still play it cool for the most part.

In "La Bomb," things stay a little more subdued at first, with Lundbom playing pensively in the low range. This time the wild saxophone noise comes from Irabagon, whose alto always sounds ready to twist a note into a growl or evoke guitar distortion.

"Law Years," the album's Ornette offering, consists of a series of phrases that always seem to flow randomly over a rubato pulse, not catching up until the final message. Jazz punks Universal Congress Of once played a rip-roaring version of this. BFC puts a different spin on it, with Elliot taking a long, meaningful solo before Exclamationpoint stirs up a fuss. This time he blows a prepared tenor saxophone, fashioned with a thundertube which is connected to a drum head and 17" spring at the other end. Much like the balto!, this contraption can "play normal" sometimes, while certain notes can send it into vibrational overdrive. It sounds like a shtick, but it makes a great solo. Once it's done, BFC continues a tradition held on their previous records and on the other two tracks: they simply stop without playing the theme once more.

Compared to "Law Years," Irabagon and Murray/Exclamationpoint sound like Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh on "Wrapped," which opens Bring Their 'A' Game. Bass and drums speed up and slow down behind a long, flowing saxophone melody. After a clean "B" section, Lundbom takes over with a bright, but edgy solo, marked by sharp accents. The two saxophonists return, taking turns soloing, not so much trading as egging each other on, with no respect for barlines. That pesky rhythm section starts toying with tempo again as well.

Lundbom plays chicken scratch beautifully, just off-mike, in the opening of "Worth" while the saxes play a raunchy, long-toned theme with a sensual edge. Irabagon's solo features a segment where he holds one note and slowly raises the pitch, bending it upwards like a snake charmer. He also produces some delightful flutter tongue blasts and vicious slap-tonguing before returning to the note-bending act. The echo on Lundbom's guitar makes him sound like the ghost of Jim Hall dropping by for a look-see and getting puzzled. Monaghan's brushes work especially well here, alternately swinging the beat and going up against it.

Coleman's "WRU" closes this set. (For those who never heard the explanation of that album's initial-based titles, this one is short for "Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious.") Again the saxes have that clean sound, playing in unison on the theme. Murray (I'm going to use his real name from here on out; I can't take the pseudonym) plays a solo on tenor. No gimmicks or effects, just solid blowing that gets unhinged at the right time. Lundbom jumps in for another lean, taut solo, with the horns piggybacking on his lines.

The title Play All the Notes might imply busy music in which all the notes come in a flurry. Turns out there's no prepared saxophone noise or chaos, though it's not exactly straightahead either. The quintet does sound focused, getting down to business right away. The 10-minute "Comedy Gold" bypasses a theme and focuses mainly on solo exchanges between Murray and Irabagon. They start off individually, each one gradually getting further off the ground, Murray creating melodic thoughts faster than his hands choose to execute them (intentionally, it seems), and Irabagon eventually flying over the rhythm section and alternating between crisp and rugged tones. The rhythm section lingers, playing a 5/4 pattern to keep things in check.

"Period" evokes the knotty writing of Tim Berne, with counterpoint between the tenor and alto, and an uneven number of notes at end of a bar line. But the rhythm section sounds more languid than a Berne group. Elliot's roaming bass line sounds like a counter solo beneath Lundbom's own picking, which continually returns to the opening riff, making this the closest to a track where the theme is restated. "Humpty Dumpty," which the Coleman quartet recorded on This Is Our Music, serves as the album's closing statement, with guitar and alto solos and the usual sudden ending.

Although the discs are technically released by Hot Cup, Elliot's label, the best place to find them  - and any BFC releases you might have missed - is Lundbom's personal page, as the imprint's webpage is in bad need of an update.

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