Photo Courtesy of NoBusiness Records
Threadbare’s Silver Dollar isn’t a conventional jazz record. Despite having instruments that might belong to a jazz trio — bass clarinet, guitar and drums — the Chicago group infuses rock, metal and free jazz flare to give each of the eight tracks a unique feel.
The only two similar tracks on the 50 minute release are connected by title. “Threadbare 02,” which comes first, is a sparse tundra marked by negative space, faraway cymbal crashes, spacey guitar notes and Jason Stein’s masterful bass clarinet playing. By the end of the nearly nine minute track, the band sounds like it’s on the cusp of playing an actual song. Later in the record, the nervous follow up “Threadbare” shows the band finding a song structure using skillful harmonies and a memorable guitar vamp to close it out.
And speaking of guitar, guitarist Ben Cruz’s inspired playing on Silver Dollar elevates each track, whether it’s his heavy, distorted chords on the title track, his interplay with Stein’s careening clarinet on the opener or fretboard-spanning lines on the closer, “Untitled.” Despite Stein’s status as a bandleader in a couple groups, Cruz manages to outshine him at points, creating his own spotlight moments.
Drummer Emerson Hunton, who plays with Cruz in the band Moontype, also offers his restrained, jazz drumming, giving both of the “Threadbare” parts an ethereal sense of rhythm. Hunton’s punchy, chaotic hits on the album’s shortest song, “Funny Thing Is,” give it a bebop feel that makes the track stand out among the alt-rock textures he and Cruz create on “70 Degrees and Counting Down” or the doom metal influence on “Silver Dollar.” They both provide an engaging template for Stein’s ducking and soaring clarinet soloing.
Although Silver Dollar contains no spoken lyrical statements, Stein’s expressive playing acts as the next best thing. The Chicago veteran musician shows great tone control over his clarinet and often hangs in the spaces between notes to create an eerie effect. The album’s best moments come when he plays in harmony with Cruz’s guitar, creating a melodic texture you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else. The only downside is that it happens so infrequently throughout the record’s runtime.
Fusing jazz playing with the flavors of several different types of music, Threadbare have released an engaging debut that never fails to hold attention. With each track contributing a new feel or furthering a previous arrangement, Silver Dollar makes a strong, holistic impression through its various styles and textures, as well as its tight musical chemistry.