A squeak, a muffled belch, some scrapings and scrabblings on strings, more guttural grunts, and gradually, very slowly, we ease into something that sounds like ensemble coherence, a tune even! The instruments begin to play a wonky march, at first dirge-like, but gradually speeding up as they begin to run, each instrument trying to outrun the others. It then collapses into a more regular jazz rhythm as Stirrup lay the foundations for the +6 to improvise over. So begins this album on the fascinating Song for Salim, and it sets the tone for what is to come.
Stirrup are an avant jazz trio from Chicago, comprising Charles Rumback on drums, Nick Macri on bass and, usually, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and tenor guitar, and have been playing around their home town since 2009. No cello or guitar for Fred on this live album however, as the band are augmented by a number of guest musicians, hence the +6, and Fred keeps things in order by cueing the guests utilising his lightbox cueing system. As far as I can work out, this works by having different coloured lights for the guest musicians, together with a set of cue cards, thus each contributor knows when, and to a large extent what, to play. The lightbox is operated by Fred Lonberg-Holm.
The results are a hugely entertaining mixture of avant-garde jazz noises combined with written passages and melodies, and some quite astonishing improvisation. Close your eyes and you are transported to a smoky underground jazz/blues club in Chicago, the band playing into the early hours to an enthusiastic clientele. Although there is no real discernible sound of an audience, it is very clearly recorded live. Such an atmosphere would be so difficult to capture in a sterile studio. On third track Floating Melody for instance, the soloists (reeds players Keefe Jackson and Mars Williams) certainly work themselves into a fair old lather, with blood vessel stability threatened. They don’t so much float, as try to escape the Earth’s magnetic field. Many of the pieces here are allowed to completely break down before the Stirrup rhythm men restart things with a new base from which trumpet or violin or reeds generally take their cue. It helps keep things interesting and full of vitality; there is no boring ten minute noodling on display here. Maybe that’s the beauty of having a non-playing band member who simply cues the players according to what is required. The resultant moods are many and varied, from almost chamber interludes to free jazz to more traditional sections.
Insen for Yonsei has some super interplay between the viola of Jen Clare Paulson and Peter Maunu’s violin leading to a trumpet led concluding motif courtesy of Russ Johnson. It has to be said though that the playing is exemplary throughout. The written parts are not the easiest to play, and the improvised solos are for the most part impassioned and occasionally gloriously unhinged. If you like your jazz authentic but edgy, tuneful but adventurous, this should be very much up your street, and I would highly recommend it.
01. Song For Salim (11:00)
02. Salt Lines (8:41)
03. Floating Melody (8:34)
04. Insen For Yonsei (7:35)
05. Little Spots (7:39)
06. Rodney’s Last Ride (9:04)
07. Domi’s Dream (7:50)
Total Time – 60:23
Fred Lonberg-Holm – Lightbox Operator
Nick Macri – Bass
Charles Rumback – Drums
~ with +6:
Jen Clare Paulson – Viola
Zoots Houston – Electronics
Keefe Jackson – Reeds
Russ Johnson – Trumpet
Peter Maunu – Guitar, Violin
Mars Williams – Reeds
Record Label: Cuneiform Records
Catalogue#: RUNE 473
Recorded: Live at Elastic Arts, Chicago on 15th June 2017
Date of Release: 24th June 2020
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