things that go klang in the night

klang: jason adasiewicz, tim daisy, james falzone and jason roebke. photo by david sampson.

klang: jason adasiewicz, tim daisy, james falzone and jason roebke. photo by david sampson.

Who would you expect from a band called Klang?

A percussion ensemble? A bell ringers’ society? Personally, if faced with a blindfold test, the first image that would pop in my mind would be of Brian Johnson swinging from an enormous chime whenever AC/DC plays Hell’s Bells onstage. Now, that’s a klang for you.

No, the Klang heading to Lexington this week offers a cheerier though more challenging sound than any of those choices. The latest in a string of indie Chicago jazz ensembles to flow through town courtesy of the Outside the Spotlight Series, Klang is traditional in its makeup (a quartet built around the swing-savvy blend of clarinet and vibraphone) as well as in its repertoire (music inspired by Jimmy Giuffre and Benny Goodman). But expectations pretty well end there.

“A lot of my work tends to be outside of jazz,” said clarinetist James Falzone, who formed Klang in 2006. “It is influenced by jazz, but my music is also inspired by different world genres. Klang was a chance to go with a straight up jazz group. I mean, vibes and clarinet are one of the classic combinations in swing music and post bop jazz.”

Among the initial inspirations behind Klang was saxophonist/clarinetist Giuffre, a ‘40s and ‘50s era arranger for Woody Herman. Giuffre’s trio ensembles of the ‘50s and ‘60s made pioneering use of percussion when it made it use of it all. Many of his percussion-less groups also explored areas of free improvisation with an emphasis on quieter compositional colors that many critics have compared to chamber music.

“I was writing a lot of tunes for this group that explored what I call Giuffre-isms,” Falzone said. “I didn’t want Klang to be a tribute band. But the tunes took on things I associate with Giuffre’s work while at the same time serving as my own statements.

“One of the things Giuffre captured was this sense of space in his music by changing the role of the drummer in the ensemble. He wrote a lot of tunes where the drummer would not be the timekeeper, but a member of the counterpoint. There is a piece on our record (the independently issued Tea Music) called No Milk where drums never actually play with the rest of the ensemble. They just sort of play within the cracks.

“Of course, you need to have a sympathetic drummer for that.”

Luckily, Klang has one of the best. Playing drums and percussion in Klang is Tim Daisy, who has performed with numerous ensembles in Outside the Spotlight concerts here over the past seven years, the most prominent being The Vandermark 5. Bassist Jason Roebke (another OTS regular) and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz complete the Klang lineup.

But the Giuffre inspiration represents only one area of influence for the band. The music of swing king Goodman – not coincidentally, a Chicago native – is also a guiding but somewhat unexpected force. Since the completion of Tea Music, Falzone has arranged – and, in some instances, written original works based on – Goodman’s small group compositions, especially 1939-41 sextet pieces featuring guitarist Charlie Christian.

“What I love about that music is the concentration on improvisation,” Falzone said. “That was really exciting stuff. You hear it Goodman’s trios, quartets and all of his larger small groups. We will probably be recording some of the Goodman material that I put together soon.

“It’s funny, though. A lot of clarinetists never touch Goodman because of how sacred that music is considered to be.”

While Goodman’s presence might not be obvious on Tea Music, some especially playful views of swing are. On Daisy’s Fickle, a brisk and decidedly cool groove struts before stopping dead in its tracks with punctuated, blues-like jabs. The groove then resumes before deflating entirely into improvisatory flourishes.

Later, on Falzone’s China Black, a loping clarinet melody has the aloofness of a Thelonious Monk tune. But it soon fades into squeals, percussive skirmishes and open-ended improvisation.

“Klang is still a slightly more accessible project than other improvisational groups here in Chicago,” Falzone said. “In a way, that’s largely because of the clarinet, which is a softer, somewhat more un-affronting instrument. Certainly, it can peel the paint off the walls when I’m screeching. But by and large, it’s a mellower instrument.

“Also, even when we’re exploring in our improvisations, I think people really respond to the energy and sense of community between the musicians. When we’re improvising in a freer or more open space, there is such a simpatico between the members of the ensemble. We’re listening to each other, we’re responding to each other and we’re, quite literally, engaged in a conversation.

“And I think that is when musicians are really at their best.”   

Klang performs at 8:30 tonight at Al’s Bar, 6th and Limestome. Admission is $5. Call  (859) 309-2901.

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