in performance: keefe jackson quartet

keefe jackson.

keefe jackson.

Even within the Outside the Spotlight Series, where music is never formulated given its often exclusively improvisatory nature, there is some track record to go by, some level of past history to serve as a reference point.

Not so with last night’s performance by the Chicago-rooted Keefe Jackson Quartet at the Farish Theatre. This was the regional debut of a new band, made up largely of OTS frequent flyers, that mixed compositional passages with a wealth of free improvisation. The resulting music was challenging to say the least. The composed sections, themes that seemed to surface in almost classical fashion, gave the program an accessibility some OTS concerts purposely avoid. But the three pieces Jackson unveiled (or maybe there were two; the second and third bled into each other like a suite) had Jackson and Dave Rempis juggling various saxophones (and, in Jackson’s case, bass clarinet) while Jason Stein grounded the music somewhat by playing bass clarinet solely.

Cellist Tomeka Reid and Norwegian drummer Tollef Ostvang often worked independently of the quintet’s front line and, in many instances, of each other. Ostvang colored the music with percussion both sparse and spacious while Reid proved the group’s most resourceful player, creating sounds that filled percussive and bass roles. But there were also several places where her bowed playing took on a gorgeous life of its own.

Presented in a largely academic fashion (Jackson’s only spoken acknowledgement of the audience was a quick introduction of his bandmates ) that brought to mind the way Henry Threadgill designed a concert here some years ago, the quintet saved its most exhilarating stylistic mash up for the program’s conclusion.

With the saxophones and clarinets engaging in quick, roulette-style solos, the front line slowly locked into a fearsome melodic charge that Ostvang and Reid quickly turned to swing. Then the whole passage quietly imploded, offering a fascinating slo-mo deconstruction of the compositional complexities the quintet had taken such pains to that point of creating.

Such was the design of this Chicago/Norway brigade, a band that employed composition only as a means of navigation. No wonder the players were so eager, after finding their bearings, to steer straight into stormy waters.



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