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Friday, March 25, 2011

The Engines - Wire and Brass (OkkaDisk, 2010) ****

By Joe Higham

From what I read on The Engines website this album was recorded live in 2008 at the Hungry Brain (Chicago), shame it's taken so long to get the CD out. So here's your chance to get to hear the second helping (*) of The Engines, a group coming from the windy city, made up of Jeb Bishop: trombone; Dave Rempis: saxophones; Nate McBride: bass; Tim Daisy: drums. Rempis and Daisy probably need no real introduction to our regulars being also members of the Ken Vandermark 5.

The music on the album is an intelligent mix between in and out, improvised and arranged. The CD has 5 themes each fairly long, the shortest being 9 minutes, so one needs time to really enjoy the music, naturally a good thing. The beautifully crafted compositions with complex (but organic) structures are what give the listener an almost panoramic image, and like a train journey that moves from station to station, stopping at various places, the music seems to roam naturally from start to finish, never taking a direct route to it's ending.

The tunes - 'Four feet of Slush' is like an extended ballad. Starting with gentle improvised sections for sax, bass and drums, a theme arrives after 5 mins and finally becomes a feature for trombone as it moves towards the final theme, sounding almost like a piece from Don Cherry, or Ornette even. 'Free Range' starts with powerful high energy blowing but surprises us with a wonderful post-bop like theme halfway through, swinging like the clappers with both trombone and sax features, before moving back to the original high energy blowing and theme. The opening tune 'Trouble Distribution' has some lovely time changes, stops and starts, also used in the improvisations to great effect.

In fact all the tunes have something that keep the listeners guessing on how the music will evolve. Each tune having interesting corners to discover, and that means plenty of meat to get your teeth into(**). This is a style of music that I find really fun to listen to, all your needs are met, with melody, form and freedom being finely balanced and never a dull moment.

Tags on this excellent release could be - Empty Cage Quartet, Don Cherry's 'Complete Communion', and Ken Vandermark!

(*) The first self titled CD came out in 2008, also on Okka Disk.
(**) I'm a vegetarian, but somehow I couldn't find a better expression, sorry!

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