Charles Rumback – In the New Year – ears&eyes

by | Jan 5, 2016 | Jazz CD Reviews

Modern jazz music which seems to pull apart even as it attains continuity.

Charles Rumback – In the New Year [TrackList follows] – ears&eyes ee:15-o38, 52:40 [12/4/15] ***1/2:

(Charles Rumback – drums, co-producer; Caroline Davis – alto saxophone; Jeff Parker – guitar; Jason Stein – bass clarinet; John Tate – bass)

Chicago drummer Charles Rumback is a musician who is comfortable in a myriad of genres, from rock to jazz, which gives his improvisations and compositions a dynamic, eclectic nature, somewhere between modern jazz and avant-garde. If a name has to fit, consider calling it alternative jazz. Rumback’s debut, Two Kinds of Art Thieves (Clean Feed, 2009) was an open-minded, free-fluctuating affair. Rumback charts a parallel, liberating direction on his latest outing, the 52-minute In the New Year (issued in late 2015 but well worth hearing at the beginning of another year).

For this effort, Rumback recruited some of the finest unconventional artists associated with the Chicago and New York outsider jazz scenes, comprising alto saxophonist Caroline Davis; guitarist Jeff Parker (Chicago Underground Trio, Tortoise and Ken Vandermark); bass clarinetist Jason Stein (Exploding Star Orchestra, and others); and bassist John Tate. Rumback penned six of the eight tunes; Tate wrote one; and the quintet covers Andrew Hill.

The CD commences with the title track, which sets the general tone. There’s a peaceable, rhapsodic scope to the piece, but it’s no relaxed rumination on New Year resolutions. Everyone has a perception of unity. Although the performance sounds spontaneous, there are no improvised movements. Davis offers a pale, opalescent shade on sax, while Stein pigments the melody with his gray-hued bass clarinet. The way the two horns combine is a quiet precision in musical interaction. Parker and Tate support the tune’s swaying apprehension, while Rumback executes uninhibited percussion touches.

There are three cuts (all over nine minutes in length) which have multi-part structures which allow for many areas of give and take, subtleties and nuances. “Right Reasons” starts with sublime bass notes and Rumback’s shadowy percussion (brushes on cymbals, light ticks from his sticks), which creates a melancholy mood. The timbre alters somewhat as clarinet and sax both enter, seemingly dueling for space: but in reality, it’s a dialogue of deeper dimensions. Progressively, the five musicians push forward as the pulse quickens. There’s some strange stuff which goes through this extended work, as if something tethered is being slowly pulled apart. Contrasting features also coalesce and commingle on the intricate “Dragons in Denver,” where the sense of self-possessed turmoil has a peculiarly alluring aspect, like a flaw which enhances rather than impairs. Sharp deviating lines join and separate as the fivesome demonstrate group empathy. Parker, in particular, stands out as he crafts odd sounds which juxtapose against melodic lines, showcasing harmonic brilliance. “Dragons in Denver,” which has a blues-based foundation during one section, turns chaotic and a bit anarchic during the final segment, where a communal free-jazz mannerism ebbs and rises. There’s a rambunctious quality to “Ash Wednesday,” since there is definite propulsion which glides through the nearly ten-minute excursion. Movement—all sorts of movement—seems to be the key ingredient here. Rumback supplies skittish percussive facets; Stein proves how vibrant a bass clarinet can be, despite the instrument’s lower pitch; and Parker maintains a straightforward sound (he’s not one to use a plethora of pedals and effects) but otherwise performs as if he throws caution to the wind and lets his fingers find unhindered autonomy.

One of the shorter pieces is Tate’s serene “Peaceful Giant,” a tribute to bassist Ron Carter. This is a hushed, gentle and genteel ballad, which ironically isn’t a bass-specific arrangement, but rather imparts tenderness via all of the instruments. The record closes with a new interpretation of Andrew Hill’s “Tough Love.” Hill’s original was an unorthodox piano solo rendition (on his 1999 Dusk CD). Hill’s darting stance and unpredictable meter suits Rumback and his quintet, and their approach to this obscure Hill tune reveals uncompromising music can also be evocative and richly rewarding. Finishing with Hill is an apt strategy, because it illustrates how Rumback’s thoughtful and creative music is a portion of a larger whole; in other words, Rumback’s material encompasses a musical vision, shared by likeminded individuals, which is wide-ranging, extensive, and continues to advance our ideas of what jazz can be.

TrackList: In the New Year; Right Reasons; Convulsive; Dragons in Denver; Portrait of Lorena; Peaceful Giant; Ash Wednesday; Tough Love.

—Doug Simpson

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