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Chet Doxas – Rich in Symbols – Ropeadope

Chet Doxas – Rich in Symbols [TrackList follows] – Ropeadope, 39:09 [9/8/17] ****:

Do paintings have a sound?

(Chet Doxas – woodwinds, synth; Matthew Stevens – guitar; Zack Lober – bass; Eric Doob – drums; Dave Douglas – trumpet (track 6); John Escreet – piano (track 5); Dave Nugent – guitar (tracks 1, 3, 5); Liam O’Neil – synth, producer, mixer)

One person’s art is another person’s music. That’s the essential idea behind Chet Doxas’ latest album, the 39-minute Rich in Symbols. The Canadian musician (who now calls Brooklyn home) was inspired by NYC’s 1975-1985 art movement and artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fab Five Freddy and others who gave a jolt to modern art. Doxas states his seven originals were written by ear while looking at his favorite NYC mod-art paintings in various museums throughout New York City. To bring his modern jazz to life, Doxas (on woodwinds and synth) brought together his quartet (guitarist Matt Stevens, bassist Zack Lober and drummer Eric Doob) with several guests. Doxas may be known for his stint in the Canadian pop/rock Sam Roberts Band, but he’s best heard fronting his own group.

It’s impossible to tell which tune was motivated by which piece of art. Doxas doesn’t mention it in the bare-bones CD digipak or in promotional materials. The compositions don’t borrow titles from specific artwork. But each track does elicit a response, feeling or comparison to a visual item. The music was recorded and mixed with a contemporary audience in mind by producer Liam O’Neil (who was a full-time member of Montreal-based band the Stills; has contributed to Kings of Leon records; and has engineered and/or produced for indie-pop band Metric and chamber-popsters Stars). Rich in Symbols is packed with melodic grooves, sparkling electric guitar which also rocks, loads of swirling synths, pulsing electric bass and solid drums which often have more of a rock tone than a jazz impression. Basically, this is jazz music geared toward indie rock/pop listeners.

Opener “While You Were Sleeping” is an inspirational, anthemic cut highlighted by Dave Nugent’s rock-tinted guitar (Nugent was lead guitarist in the Sam Roberts Band), Lober’s propulsive bass and Doxas’ minimalist sax (he seems to understand two notes can be just as good as six notes). Nugent is also on “I Haven’t Seen Color,” a mid-tempo number where his guitar, Doxas’ sometimes discordant sax, and O’Neil and Doxas’ twinned synths coalesce into a fusion of rock and jazz, which is particularly potent during the faster-paced and decidedly more ‘colorful’ second half. Nugent also participates on the fluctuating “Orchard,” which includes acoustic pianist John Escreet (a sideman with saxophonist David Binney and drummer Antonio Sanchez). Doxas’ arrangement shifts between rock-bent sections (Nugent provides a workout on his effects-laden guitar) and modern jazz segments (accentuated by sax and piano), thus marrying indie rock and contemporary jazz into a seamless whole.

One of the most adventurous tracks is the popping “Hot Ones,” with trumpeter Dave Douglas (Doxas is in Douglas’ quartet Riverside). Douglas is a perfect complement to this crunching cut, which parallels some of the electro-jazz Douglas has crafted on his solo projects. During “Hot Ones” the synths take on a robust tonality, while Lober and Doob supply a driving rhythm foundation. The only negative aspect is how some of Douglas’ trumpet is subsumed into the concentrated production…when his trumpet does come to the front, it’s quickly gone again. Doxas and his quartet close with the moody “We Made a Lie Together,” which features an opaque emotionalism, like the resonance which might permeate a painting filled with somber hues. Those who know Doxas due to his other jazz outings (such as the aforementioned Riverside recordings) may find Rich in Symbols a different kind of experience. This is music which comes from another direction, where traditional jazz isn’t at the fore, but rather the center heads into other genres, including rock. This is jazz, but it’s not just jazz.

While You Were Sleeping
I Haven’t Seen Color
Image and Nation
Hot Ones
We Made a Lie Together

—Doug Simpson




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