Tuesday, September 18, 2018

LP Review: Matthew Lux's Communication Arts Quartet

Matthew Lux's Communication Arts Quartet
(Astral Spirits/Mofonus) monofonuspress.com/store/matthew-luxs-communication-arts-quartet-2

Contra/Fact originally came out on cassette last fall. This edition commits bassist Matthew Lux's debut as a leader to vinyl, trimming a couple tracks from the original album and changing the running order a bit. Lux has been described as the Kevin Bacon of Chicago, due to his close connection to the Windy City's various music scenes. He could easily play straight or free jazz but his name has appeared on numerous albums by Isotope 217, various Rob Mazurek projects and albums by indie-related artists like Azita, Smog and Iron & Wine. If anything has kept him from leading his own session, it probably relates to a busy calendar.

Lux doesn't attempt to make for lost time by putting his instrument front and center on Contra/Fact. In fact, he acts more like a designer, creating scenes for his quartet comrades to flesh out, which he embellishes with effects and editing techniques later. Joining him are Ben Lamar Gay (cornet), Mikel Patrick Avery (drums) and Jayve Montgomery (tenor sax, "clarinumpet," flute). All four of them also add percussion, along with samplers and brief bits of guitars to the mix.

The new running order ensures that Contra/Fact never stays in one place for too long, easing from a rhythmic groove to a sample-heavy bit of electro-acoustic noise to a blend of dub and solid horn solos. If the group created everything spontaneously in the studio, they were clearly having a ball by taking raw ideas and seeing where they would lead. However, moments like the harmonized horn line toward the end of "Israels'" indicate that some preparation went into it. The tight groove that Avery and Lux sustain during this track makes it one of the standouts. Earlier in the album, Lux evokes the warmth of Charlie Haden in the rubato "Ninna Nanna," accompanied with Mongomery's smoky tenor and Gay's muted cornet, before everyone starts to move freely and the entire quartet gets bathed in distortion.

If the noisier tracks don't hold up quite as well as the rest, they continue to change shape as they proceed. The sounds early in "Mercury Lights" evoke both turntable scratching and car radio transmissions that fade in and out, before buzzing samples overtake it. At 10 minutes, the choppy "C.G.L.W." gets a little long, but it wants to go back to Miles Davis' On the Corner, pondering what remains on that corner all these years later.

Considering Matthew Lux's extensive list of credits, it should probably come as no surprise that his own outing would cross several sorts of musical terrain. In this case, the lack of a definite focus works in his favor.

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