By Sammy Stein
Threadbare are a trio of Chicago musicians comprising Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Ben Cruz on guitar and Emerson Hunton on drums. Stein has enjoyed a long career as an avant-bass clarinetist in Chicago, as well as a string of releases spread across different projects, including playing with Ivo Perelman on 'Spiritual Prayers'. He leads Locksmith Isidore and his own Quartet and co-leads Hearts and Minds and Nature Work.
Guitar player Ben Cruz is an Oberlin College graduate and a versatile guitarist. Drummer Emerson Hunton is also an Oberlin graduate and has both power in his rhythms and an understanding of when to cut, tinker and dive right back in. Both Cruz and Hunton play in indie band Moontype, and Hunton is a Modern Dance Accompanist at the Hyde Park School of Dance, and Music Program Manager at Logan Square's Comfort Station art space. They share composition of tracks on this CD.
The opening track, 'And When Circumstances Arise' is a great example of how a track is built around the musicians who are creating it. The opening is bass clarinet playing phrases of 4, 6 ,4,5, notes with the drum thudding at the end of each phrase before the rhythm changes very briefly to triads and the piece segues into a rock-leaning number - the guitar and drums continuing the rhythm whilst the bass clarinet follows and diverges away into patterns of its own. What is also very creative is the guitar in the background, which changes rhythm apace with the clarinet. By the halfway mark, Stein is travelling the full registers of the clarinet whilst the drums and guitar work around his lead, crafting supporting webs which lift and bounce the bass sounds aloft. The quieter final section is instigated by the drum dropping back and the bass clarinet soaring into upper registers and takes the listener by surprise in its gentleness.
'Threadbare' is calming, tentative almost at the start with extended, breathy bass clarinet notes and atmospheric cymbals and guitar. The introduced ascents developing in the bass clarinet lines stress the quietude - and the gaps between the notes also play their part. A track with changing rhythms, emphasis and a sense of building. After the five minute mark everyone is improvising along their line and it gets really interesting, with Stein way up on the register and then switching down with ease. The final two minutes are glorious.
'70 Degrees and Counting Down' is introduced by guitar, over which the clarinet sighs a gentle melody - for about 30 seconds before the drums introduce a heavier rhythm and the others respond. Then a sudden drop to a gentle interlude which in turn morphs again into a rocky, pounding section before bass clarinet solos. The guitar joins and there is a dialogue, into which the drum rudely wedges itself but proves worth the room as it leads the trio with the heavy, determined beat, to heady heights and Stein comes into his own - inspirational.
'24 Mesh Veils' sees the trio investigating varied patterns and the guitar is given space to solo, proving the choice of Cruz for the role an excellent one. Here Stein largely shows his supportive side as he now provides the steady underlying support over which the guitar sings. At times the huge, deep sound of the bass clarinet come across so clearly, it is as if there is a bass onside as well.
'Funny Thing Is' is snappy, riotous and light from all players initially before the natural progression to a deeper, more textured sound prevails and the rapid paced drums, steady guitar and slightly deranged speedy progressions and drops from Stein make this a delight to hear.
If 'Threadbare' is meant to show what the band Threadbare are about, it serves its purpose. In this track there is free flowing improvised music with Stein on stut notes and popping his wood, as well as more traditional leaning towards pop/ rock and ensemble playing. There is noise, there is travel through genres, there is space and delight in the beauty held within the notes.
'Silver Dollar' announces its intent with crashing drums, chords on guitar and loud belly rumbles from the clarinet. What strikes here is the vitality and importance of the tight support over which Stein rises, falls and rolls. Stein here is pretty amazing and he demonstrates nearly all that a bass clarinet can do. This track is full-on; it is huge; it is fiery, intense noise and it is musical. If you turn the headphones up it nearly takes your head off - wonderful music. The standout track on this album of beauties.
'Untitled' completes the album and this track is a contrast, with the first minute taken up by weird and wonderful guitar over which the sax offers breathy extended notes and later gentle phrases, delivered slow and then rapid-fire in upper register of the bass clarinet, creating at times an almost metallic purity. By the halfway point the track is heavier, developing layers, skins and texture and it is the drums again which largely emphasis the changes both in rhythms and pattern. Cruz is given space in which to solo, which he takes and produces a well structured delivery. An explorative track which highlights the importance of each musician.
Together Crus and Hunton provide a solid, bubbling rhythm section , tight against Stein's fluid and effervescent bass clarinet. They never overshadow the genius of Stein but they also know when to up the ante and become showy in their own right.
Throughout, the playing on all sides is excellent, both tasteful and forceful at once. Jason Stein demonstrates the exquisite possibilities of the bass clarinet and hearing Cruz and Stein trade off on this album is an absolute thrill. Yet the valuable presence of Hunton on drums and percussion cannot be underestimated. It is often the drums which direct, change the tempos and lead - subtly but with an authority not often seen in such a young player. this combination makes for an intelligent, well delivered and bloody marvelous listen.
This CD is released on NoBusiness Records, not Avant-jazz - -http://www.nobusinessrecords.com/threadbare-silver-dollar.html
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