Chicago Odense Ensemble: “Soup”
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Hajduch: Chicago Odense Ensemble is the latest foray of Rob Mazurek (Exploding Star Orchestra, Chicago Underground, Isotope 217) into large-group jazz fusion. He’s brought along some of his previous collaborators (Jeff Parker and Dan Bitney of Tortoise and Isotope 217; Matt Lux, also of Isotope 217) as well as some fresh faces (Jonas Munk and Jakob Skøtt of European psych band Causa Sui and percussionist Brian Keigher).
Fans of the previously mentioned bands have a pretty good idea of what to expect here: Mazurek’s compositions tend to mine pretty similar territory, electric-era Miles Davis that sprawls out gradually. Mazurek has an ear for catchy melody that shines through even when the playing is wide open. Over the course of the (mostly lengthy) tracks, one melody line will give way to an echoed-out drone, from which a new idea will usually emerge and take over.
The guitar interplay — Parker’s filtered, muted scales in one channel, Jonas Munk’s wocka-chicka psych octaves in the other — turns Mazurek’s usual In a Silent Way meandering into something more like On the Corner. The drums are saturated with dub echo, and at times it is left to Mazurek’s insistent cornet lines and the steady bass of Matt Lux to hold a groove down.
Morrow: We’ve both heard the Chicago guys play in a number of permutations, and though they’re by no means allergic to grooves, it’s nice to hear them on another improv album that centers on riff patterns. Each player is very capable of wild, “free” performances, but each is just as adept at captivating melodies and adapted accompaniments.
Despite the overlapping complexities on this album, it never loses its focus as an accessible collection. The contributions from Munk and Skøtt (each from Odense, Denmark) cannot be understated; it seems that they often draw in the right accents, whether it’s a soft cornet part from Mazurek, a restrained bass line from Lux, or a warm guitar harmony from Parker.
Hajduch: I don’t know if it’s the psych influence of the new players, or the nature of the compositions, but this album feels more locked-in in terms of riffs than previous Mazurek projects. Exploding Star Orchestra, in particular, prefers huge, multi-section pieces, with lots of space for solos. Chicago Odense Ensemble pieces tend to have a lot of playing in the margins, but there usually is a bass line and one other member holding down the groove. Without a lot of far-flung experimentation, it feels a bit the same at times, but none of that takes away from Mazurek’s ear for melody. You might get lost for a few minutes as you zone out to a groove, but you won’t catch yourself thinking that it’s monotonous or un-listenable.
One thing that is slightly disappointing is the lack of a second horn. Mazurek frequently works as the lone horn player in his bands, but his gift for writing ensemble lines is inspired (pretty much every track on his album with Chicago Underground Orchestra has a great example of this; also see “Looking After Life on Mars” from Isotope 217’s Utonian Automatic, where he plays a duo lead against Jeff Parker’s guitar). In light of this, it’s unfortunate that he doesn’t take the time to harmonize any truly memorable lead lines here. With the range of talent on display, it feels like a missed opportunity.
Morrow: I don’t know. I love a lot of stuff with big brass front lines, but I’m glad that we’re not horned to death here. Also, I assume that this is a true collaboration between the parties, not just another of Mazurek’s projects, and his penchant for great leads and solos already puts him in the spotlight.
Ultimately, Chicago Odense Ensemble feels like some of its players’ other projects, but I think that we agree that it’s a really well-done disc with great grooves. Also, we should point out that Adluna Records planned a special subscription offer for this release, which is limited to 500 CDs and 250 vinyl records, so pre-order it here if you want to secure a copy.