Tuesday, October 04, 2016

CD Review: Jason Roebke Octet - Cinema Spiral

Jason Roebke Octet
Cinema Spiral
(No Business) nobusinessrecords.com/

Whereas Jason Roebke's last octet album, High/Red/Center (Delmark, 2014), began with some tense but swinging Sun Ra-esque harmonies, Cinema Spiral begins with an atonal, out-of-tempo call from the horn-heavy ensemble. It doesn't attempt to copy the opening wail of Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, but "Looking Directly Into the Camera" contains a similar loose-cum-focused feel, an announcement that the group is about to begin. And like that other landmark session, this theme will recur, providing a break between sections that might otherwise be missed.

Cinema Spiral consists of seven tracks, but it's actually one continuous 52-minute piece with no proper pauses. Like High/Red/Center, bassist Roebke corralled his close associates from the Chicago music scene to bring it to life: Greg Ward (alto saxophone), Keefe Jackson (tenor & sopranino saxophones, contrabass clarinet), Jason Stein (bass clarinet), Josh Berman (cornet), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes) and Mike Reed (drums). Any chance to hear that lineup together in one place surely means a good time will be had by listeners and participants.

But while the octet's previous session featured a combination of written parts and a grounded rhythm section working together with unwound solos, Cinema Spiral as a whole feels much looser. "Looking Directly" moves right from the opening line to a thoughtful, probing solo from the leader. Long tones eventually come in, but it feels more like exposition. "Focusing" follows with Stein's bass clarinet and Bishop's trombone beginning a bit of group improvisation. The second real ensemble passage comes toward the end, prior to a restatement of the opening call.

This loose framework continues for most of the album. A short theme at the end of "Getting High" acts more like a chance to regroup before everyone goes for broke in "People Laughing." That track begins with everyone wailing at their wildest. Structure, and intrigue, comes less from written sections than pure dynamics, though. After three minutes of squonk, everyone drops out except Roebke, Adasiewicz and Reed, who grind to almost dead silence a couple minutes later. In "Waiting" Roebke adds a bit more structure by riffing behind the 'bone, cornet and contrabass clarinet interjections. The foundation feels event more buoyant in "L’acm√©" which ends with bright group theme.

In some ways Cinema Spiral could have benefited from a little more structure, since several moments seem like the octet is trying to move towards a resolve that never really comes. It leads instead to more wild blowing. At the same time, these players knows how to take it out and take people with them, maintaining a good deal of energy at all times. Bass clarinetist Stein in particular seems to get a good deal of lead time. The album is not a complete squonk fest either, as Berman and Roebke prove when they get room to shine on their own. 

No Business Records reside in Lithuania, so the album might not be quite as easy to find as High/Red/Center. Contact them directly to check it out. 

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