One of the unintended delights surrounding Sunday afternoon’s performance by the Chicago Luzern Exchange was the manner in which outside ambience pulled up a chair and became part of the Halloween fun at Collexion.
On its own, the quartet – Chicago artists John Berman, Keefe Jackson and Frank Rosaly (on cornet, tenor saxophone and drums, respectively) and Swiss tuba player Mark Unternahrer – operated on the freer plain of the free jazz sounds the Outside the Spotlight Series has been bringing to Lexington over the past eight years. Operating more as a pack of improvisational free agents rather than a stereotypical band, the Exchange also strayed into as many found sounds on their instruments as musical ones. Percussion devices became wind instruments, with Rosaly blowing into the side of a drum for an odd, vaporous sound, while the brass instruments were often used to create pops, whistles and other musical suggestions.
Over the course of the hour long set, that combination made for listening that was both fascinating and difficult.
During a 20 minute improvisation that opened the performance, the Exchange sounded purposely fractured. The brass instruments seemed largely devoted to moving about in a sort of breathy isolation until Jackson switched to bass clarinet and explored more defined hints of melodic color. Rosaly played largely to his own groove with subtle, brushed strokes on a snare. But because the quartet kept a lid on the volume (helped, no doubt, by the fact the performance was completely unamplified), such seemingly disassociated ideas formed an almost meditative musical fabric.
Ditto for a second, untitled improv that allowed Unternahrer to play oscillating patterns over a bed of tempered percussion. There were instances where the instruments offered more sustained and expected melodic colors, as well as some brief interplay between Berman and Jackson that sounded genuinely harmonic. But mostly, the Exchange seemed engaged in creating new sounds – like the ones Rosaly summoned by literally taking a knife and fork (at separate intervals, mind you) to his percussion devices.
But the outside surroundings played a role, as well, whether they intended to or not. A distant siren sounded as the opening improv became especially abstract. Later, during the performance’s fourth and final improv, the sound of a barking dog seemed right at home amid the raspy, reedy tones of the brass players. Who knows? Maybe it was a critical reaction.
It wasn’t the most immediately approachable performance the OTS series has ever presented. But on Halloween afternoon, with the autumn sun pouring through the numerous Collexion windows along with the contributions of a neighborhood hound (“Children of the night, what music they make”), the Exchange found harmony to be inescapable.