Tag Archives: Jazz

Threadbare channels many musical styles through a jazz lens on debut LP, Silver Dollar

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.

4.5/5

Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding share a positive outlook for a world in crisis on new collab, Last Flight Out

Photo Courtesy of Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding

It’s rare to hear jazzy instruments like the vibraphone or the double bass accompanied by the smooth swelling of a string quartet.

But on Last Flight Out, the second collaboration between Chicago singer-guitarist Steve Dawson and his backing band Funeral Bonsai Wedding, unconventional musical pairing intertwine to create a uniquely bright and buoyant soundscape. The album’s musicians skillfully adjust their playing for what each jazzy folk tune demands, supporting Dawson’s lyrics that strive toward creating a better tomorrow. Continue reading Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding share a positive outlook for a world in crisis on new collab, Last Flight Out

ONO surveys America’s history of racial injustices on biting new album, Red Summer

Photo Courtesy of American Dreams Records

Red Summer, the sixth and latest album by avant gospel innovators ONO, marks the Chicago group’s 40 anniversary with a record that surveys the many racial injustices of American history and indicts the authorities that permitted it. Continue reading ONO surveys America’s history of racial injustices on biting new album, Red Summer

GRID’s second album, Decomposing Force, will give your ears a workout

Photo Courtesy of NNA Tapes

Decomposing Force, the latest LP by New York noise-jazz trio GRID, plays out like a guided workout session for the ears.

Composed of four tracks that span 42 minutes, the band’s sophomore album will heighten listeners’ heart rates with blaring saxophone wails, frantic bass fretting and disjointed drumming before easing them into a cooldown during its slow-burning back half. But, like a real workout, every part won’t exactly be enjoyable. Continue reading GRID’s second album, Decomposing Force, will give your ears a workout

The Necks ponders its identity and legacy on Three, a personal album that’s as accessible as it is challenging

Photo Courtesy of Northern Spy Records

The bustling, unrestrained soundscapes created by The Necks are unmistakable. Since the late 80s, the Australian trio has blended jazz, ambient and experimental music to form lengthy, hypnotic pieces. And by developing an instrumental formula of piano, drums and bass — with the occasional organ and guitar — the band has won a dedicated following that seems to grow with every new album. Continue reading The Necks ponders its identity and legacy on Three, a personal album that’s as accessible as it is challenging

Tim Buckley: Live at the Electric Theatre Co. 1968 provides another compelling touchstone in mapping out the masterful singer-songwriter’s stylistic progression

Photo from Manifesto Records

In the age of the smartphone, if a musician was to test out new songs and ideas in front of a live audience, then, like clockwork, videos would be posted online for everyone to see and post comments. And even if the songs weren’t played live, there’s always the possibility of demos being leaked and downloaded, which has happened to dozens of musicians this century. But, back in 1968, the pre-internet world allowed for artists to take bigger risks in performances without fear of backlash from music bloggers. Continue reading Tim Buckley: Live at the Electric Theatre Co. 1968 provides another compelling touchstone in mapping out the masterful singer-songwriter’s stylistic progression

Mark Kozelek teams up with Petra Haden and wistfully drifts through decades of memories and deep-rooted friendships on Joey Always Smiled

Photo courtesy of Caldo Verde Records

Joey Always Smiled, Mark Kozelek’s spiritual follow-up to his compellingly mellow self-titled release last year, finds the singer-songwriter reminiscing about formative adolescent memories and contrasting them with his more recent activities. Like listening to a folk rock radio station, the narratives Kozelek includes on this album, announced way back in February, span the 70s, 80s, 90s and today during the collab’s hour-plus runtime, as he deciphers which people and events most shaped the journey to his present self. Continue reading Mark Kozelek teams up with Petra Haden and wistfully drifts through decades of memories and deep-rooted friendships on Joey Always Smiled