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Saturday, November 5, 2022

Keefe Jackson/Jim Baker/Julian Kirshner – Routines (Kettle Hole, 2022)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Chicagoan label Kettle Hole records has been up and about for three years now, slowly building a catalogue that every fan of improvised and jazz based music should check out. The trio of Keefe Jackson on tenor and sopranino saxes, Jim Baker on piano and synth plus Julian Kirshner on drums has built a strong rapport with their previous two albums, both on the great Astral Spirits records. Routines is the first on Gerrit Hatcher’s Kettle Hole –also their first studio outing.

The name they chose, Routines, for this recording seems like an irony, but most probably it is not. There is no routine, no easy gestures throughout this cd, but, certainly after repeated listening you can clearly understand their bond that leads to an amazing interaction between the musicians. All three are mainstays in the Chicago scene and that makes them open enough to what their comrades have to say by playing. I’ve always felt, as a listener, that the jazz (and beyond) scene of Chicago was about collective playing, a spirit that I find pretty much alive in their playing.

Obviously this is collective improvisation and the three of them seem to have made a conscious decision to leave their egos out of the recording room. Routines is the album that you definitely enjoy a sense of togetherness. Being a non-musician myself I’m always puzzled by musicians who, consciously, leave the solo tradition out of their playing and perform (or play, you decide) like it is one person you are listening to.

The bluesy sound of Jackson’s saxophones is at ease with Baker’s synth timbre, providing something like a droney duo for the drums of Kirshner. His polyrhythmic drumming is the backbone of Routines and, at the same time, the compass of where to go next. As much as I adore the drums-piano-sax trios, I must admit that it’s when Baker sits behind the synth keyboard, that Routines is at its best. It seemed to me that the more elastic and flexible sound (surely that in Baker’s hands) of the synthesizer fits perfectly with the elasticity of the other two musicians’ playing.

Someone could say that Routines is a show off, by three musicians, but it is not about their skills. It is a show off for collective playing, gestures that seem like a wink of an eye to the fellow musician so he can pick up the torch and continue as he pleases. All seven tracks seem more like titled references of a continuous work that demands attention.

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