Chicago Edge Ensemble – Decaying Orbit – Music+

by | Aug 17, 2017 | Jazz CD Reviews

Chicago Edge Ensemble – Decaying Orbit [TrackList follows] – Music+ Silpakorn University 53:35 [3/17/17] ****:

A Chicago jazz quintet which embraces that city’s musical unconventionality.

(Dan Phillips – guitar, producer; Mars Williams – saxophones; Jeb Bishop – trombone; Hamid Drake – drums; Krzysztof Pabian – double bass)

The Chicago jazz/improvisation scene has been—and continues to be—a thriving and developing one. The city has nurtured artists such as the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), Sun Ra, Ken Vandermark, Jeff Parker and more. Some participants of the metropolitan’s jazz community have remained, while others have moved to other areas (Rudresh Mahanthappa is based in New York City, and Parker now lives in the Los Angeles basin). But many have never forgotten what they learned in the city or are still influenced by the region. Case in point: guitarist Dan Phillips. Although he has lived and taught in Thailand for close to two decades, Phillips stays true to his Chicago roots, and recently he formed the aptly-named Chicago Edge Ensemble to help him record and create the seven original tracks on the Ensemble’s debut, the 54-minute Decaying Orbit.

The Chicago Edge Ensemble’s pedigree is notable. Drummer Hamid Drake has a long history in Chicago, where he’s played with members of the AACM; he’s also spent time in Don Cherry’s group; and been on stage with Peter Brötzmann, Joe McPhee and many more. Saxophonist Mars Williams has ties to the Peter Brotzmann Tentet, the Vandermark 5, and Hal Russell’s NRG Ensemble, as well as stints in rock bands such as the Waitresses and the Psychedelic Furs. Trombonist Jeb Bishop was also in the Vandermark 5 and the Peter Brotzmann Tentet and his credits include McPhee and Drake. The Polish born Krzysztof Pabian has a classical and jazz background, studied both disciplines in Chicago, was in the Dan Phillips Trio and has previously performed on stage with Williams, Drake and Bishop. Together, this forward-thinking quintet provides modern harmonic development, a 21st-century groove and swing, and puts a free-flowing, progressive drive to Phillips’ extended compositions.

The fivesome open with the nine-minute “Attitude Adjustment,” which launches with a melodic, multi-part theme, then shifts to a probing, mutual improvisational section where everyone leaps or jumps in a nearly free-jazz aspect, which is followed by another section where the groove flares up and Bishop proceeds into solo territory. “Attitude Adjustment” is a suitable way to begin, since the cut showcases the group’s interplay and adeptness, their ability to change and veer, but maintain communication and continuity. The lengthiest piece is the 11-minute title track, which has a similar structure. “Decaying Orbit” commences with a regal and embryonic onset, and unobtrusively transitions into another prominent groove-laced segment, where Drake pushes the rhythmic pulse and Bishop and Phillips supply striking soloing. Phillips in particular proves why he’s the most under-appreciated electric guitarist from the Chicago area. The tune’s duration allows lots of room for the band to contribute extensive improvising and elongate the musical ideas. Up next is the menacing “Splatter Pattern,” akin to the soundtrack for an avant-garde film noir. Williams is on fire as he delivers a blistering sax solo. Bishop also holds nothing back when he takes the spotlight. Phillips does the concluding solo, laying out a scorching fretboard run atop a rhythmic vamp. “Splatter Pattern” is a mesmeric tune which must be stellar in a live setting. The muggy “Bipolar Vortex” leads off as the ensemble’s most stoic tune, accentuated by Pabian’s sliding arco bass. But the Chicago Edge Ensemble is always ready to surprise, and at the midpoint of the 9:45 track, the quintet hastens into jittery agitation, and just as quickly realigns to a head-nodding, beat-splashed groove. And then goes straight into a free jazz zone. All in all, “Bipolar Vortex” is not a selection which stops in one place for long, and the better for it.

The CD closes with two fluid and fluctuating cuts. “Uptown Swagger” is the funkiest number, like a reexamination of 1970s funk/jazz filtered through a thoroughly contemporary viewpoint. Phillips approaches a rock-tinged sweep on guitar; Bishop evokes pre-war jazz with his muted trombone, but does so with a tone reminiscent of music which came out of the ‘70s NYC loft scene; Drake and Pabian lock in a groove which never quits but nevertheless vacillates as necessary. The group ends with the shortest cut, the five-minute “Not Here You Don’t,” the most forceful tune, which features frenzied trombone and sax blowing; Phillips goes impulsively up and down his fretboard; and Drake and Pabian craft a thick rhythmic layer which switches from a contagious groove to a divergent beat. There’s no hesitation or sense of compromise on Decaying Orbit. As the band name implies, this is jazz and improvisational material which goes to the edge, stays there, and doesn’t retreat.

Attitude Adjustment
Bluster Buster
Decaying Orbit
Splatter Pattern
Bipolar Vortex
Uptown Swagger
Not Here You Don’t

—Doug Simpson

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