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Nate Lepine Quartet: Vortices – ears&eyes

Saxophonist Nate Lepine: helping put the new Chicago sound on the musical map.

Nate Lepine Quartet: Vortices – ears&eyes ee:16-054, 44:48 [9/30/16] ****:

(Clark Sommers – bass; Nick Mazzarella – alto saxophone; Nate Lepine – tenor saxophone; Quin Kirchner – drums)

Jazz fans may not realize it, but Chicago is a city with a vibrant jazz scene with talented musicians who regularly move outside of the jazz norm. For instance, tenor saxophonist Nate Lepine often goes toward the edges where free improvisation meets composed jazz. He cultivates material which has one step in the past and one foot in the ever-changing present. A sense of shifting between straightforward and forward-thinking permeates Lepine’s 44-minute debut, titled Quartet: Vortices. Alongside Lepine are other Chicago jazz artists who appreciate Lepine’s musical vision: bassist Clark Sommers (who has performed with Brian Blade, Bennie Maupin, Jeff Parker, and others); alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella (who has participated in other Chicago-based improv/jazz groups); and drummer Quin Kirchner (who has connections to Chicago bands such as Bill MacKay’s Darts & Arrows, the Rob Clearfield Trio and Old Door Phantoms). This foursome brings sympathetic perception to Lepine’s 11 originals, which range from whirlwind tunes to wafting cuts which have a calming clout.

Several tunes have an Ornette Coleman-esque quality: not a mirror of Coleman’s harmolodic approach, but certainly an echo of Coleman’s brand of ‘outsider’ jazz. The music progressively contains twisting melodic passages which display Mazzarella and Lepine’s intuitive interplay. The brief, puckish “Youngblood,” which opens the CD, starts with a notable, reiterating post-bop riff. Lepine takes the main solo spotlight with determined lines while the rhythm section links the foundational dots. The title track also evokes Coleman, as well as some of Dewey Redman’s more adventurous fare. In fact, there are times during “Vortices,” when the interchange between Kirchner and the two horns resembles what Redman accomplished with drummer Ed Blackwell.

The lengthiest piece is the seven-minute “Even Yeti’s Ready for Springtime,” which has a jittery melody which conjures Coleman’s spirit but is firmly not a copy or reproduction of Coleman’s output. Mazzarella contributes a jumping tenor sax solo where he arcs around and through the melody. When Lepine strides in, the tone changes slightly to a bluesy patois with a few sax screeches tossed in to add an off-kilter zing. Kirchner supplies a potent and scuttling groove while Sommers delivers authoritative bass lines which have a bent sort of bantering swing. The two horns convene near the ending for one final harmonic push. A blues underpinning pervades “Solo for Bollo,” which has a naturalistic and earthy flair. Kirchner’s lively rhythmic support hints at a New Orleans pulse but his shifting cadences keep things so knotty that anything familiar tends to slip in and then away, in a good way.

There are numerous places where Lepine and Mazzarella express their formidable sax skills. Two of the unique ones are two short, riff-aligned asides, “So Don’t I Nate,” which fades out early at the 1:19 mark; and the equally succinct reprise, “So Don’t I Nick,” which closes out organically at 1:27. The alto and tenor saxes work wonderfully together in tandem on the Charlie Parker-ish “Cram into a Slam Jam.” The album winds down with the nervous “Aye Lads,” which is another vivid illustration of how Lepine and his quartet balance older standard jazz elements with newer jazz touches. [Available only on MP3 at Amazon so far…Ed.]

TrackList: Youngblood; Ice Shirt; Vortices; Even Yeti’s Ready for Spring; The Grass Is Rizz; Solo for Bollo; So Don’t I Nate; Hennies; Cram into a Slam Jam; So Don’t I Nick; Aye Lads

—Doug Simpson

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