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Friday, May 6, 2016

Keefe Jackson & Jason Adasiewicz – Rows and Rows (Delmark, 2016) ****½

Keefe Jackson’s tone is essential.  Whether he’s playing tenor saxophone or bass clarinet, which are of course as different as brass and wood, his sound is immediately identifiable.  It’s a deep, full tone that is shadowy and full of movement – like candlelight.  I’m not romanticizing it.  Those waxy wisps of smoky light are exactly what enable you to get to the bathroom in a power outage.  Essential.  Like that.

Because his tone is so rich – and his voice so varied – I’ve always wondered why he doesn’t do more duo work.  (I’ve not heard any solo work from him.  A discussion for another time, I suppose.)  He is well matched with powerhouse vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, whose stereophonic overtones, sustain and sharp mallet stings connect and contradict in all the right ways.  On paper this promises to be one helluva textural ride.

And while that expectation is definitely delivered, the big surprise here is the meshing of composition and improvisation into such completeness that it’s impossible to tell when composition ends and improvisation begins.  Well…  until the head repeats at the end of some of the pieces and you realize that the brilliant composition you’ve been listening to for the last two minutes was totally improvised.  (Or was it?)   The scope is varied throughout as well, running from East African melodicism on “Questioned, Understood, Possessed” to the bluesy old-school swing of the title track.

Several moments of transcendence include:
  • Adasiewicz’s clanging tone clusters that resonate like a trolley filled with magic contrasting with Jackson’s supremely deep bass clarinet presence midway through “Where’s Mine.”
  • “A Rose Heading,” a plaintive and gorgeous piece, is conventionally beautiful while steering clear of anything remotely maudlin.  Adasiewicz joins Keefe’s bass clarinet to play the melody before levitating toward the stars over Keefe’s slow, drawn-out whole notes.  If Adasiewicz plays the stars in a constellation, Jackson seems to look up and play the imaginary lines connecting them.
  • The playful support Adasiewicz shows Jackson on “Questioned, Understood, Possessed” is fascinating.  He throws sonic pillows at the ground underneath Jackson’s notes – to catch them if they fall (and they don’t).  Jackson’s notes mostly float high above the ground, swirling and flapping broadly – until Adasiewicz tosses a pillow directly at one and Jackson bats it away masterfully.  This happens several times.
  • The theme from “Cannon from the Nothing Suite” is played “round” style with Jason and Keefe winding the melody around each other.  Keefe drops a few really interesting notes and then bends & modulates them, heading back to East Africa on a rickety bus powered by vibraphone stardust.  Adasiewicz then begins bowing the vibes, taking the bus into the sky & accelerating by pounding the metal with mallets.
The selections here are relatively short.  (There are nine pieces; the longest clocks in at 6:01.)  To extend them into longer stretches might produce some interesting results, but ultimately the line that blurs composition and improvisation would most likely become more defined.  And it’s that blurred line that creates the magic.  The way this disc is sequenced and presented, the magic can continue to live over multiple listening sessions.  You won't get tired of the tunes either.  They sneak up on you.  You don't realize their strength until you've heard them multiple times.  And you will definitely listen to them multiple times.


Tom Burris said...

Just FYI - I gave this 4.5 stars. Didn't want anyone to think it was unrated!


Paul said...

Yes, you did. Will fix.

Tom Burris said...

Thanks Paul!

Ian Thumwood said...

Intrigued to read this excellent review as this record is next on my "to buy" list. Delmark is increasingly becoming my "go to" record label and it is because of artists like this that I am finding collecting these discs to be an obsession. Jason Adasiewizc is uniformly excellent on everything I have snapped up with his on but there is definitely a coterie of musicians in Chicago that he is associated with that are now issuing such astonishing records that so much from elsewhere seems disgracefully tame. You can add the likes of Jason Roebke, Josh Berman, Frank Rosaly, Nicole Mitchell, Mike Reed, Tomeka Reid, Jeb Bishop and Josh Abrams to the list and you effectively have compiled a teamsheet of all of all the musicians whose work truly matters in 2016. It is fascinating to compare albums like "High / Red /Centre", "A hop and a jump", "Here now" and Nicole Mitchell's two most recent issues with many more celebrated labels and Delmark is consistently coming out top. For me, I am increasingly finding that the New York scene is failing to match the level of creativity coming out of Chicago and the fact that so many of these musicians are taking their cues from the mid-60's avant garde seems to lend them with a degree of authenticity simply because they demonstrate that there is truly an issue of unfinished business.

Can't wait to lay my hands on this record and thanks for your informative review.