The Groove Seeker: Blink’s The Architects

The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

Blink: The Architects (Whistler, 4/19/11)

Blink: “Protect From Light (I)”

[audio:|titles=Blink.: Protect From Light (I)]

If there’s one collective that typifies the spirit of modern jazz and the next step into its “post” era, it’s Chicago-based experimental-jazz quartet Blink.  And though that might sound bogus given the fact that its new album comes only in cassette and digital-download formats, the quartet’s lo-fi approach doesn’t mean that it’s not legit.  Since its 2008 debut, The Epidemic of Ideas — a record that imparts heavy emphasis on jazz experimentation and improvisation — the quartet has toured the world, received awards from the Illinois Arts Council, and had its compositions commissioned and performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble and the Peoria Ballet Company.

On its sophomore effort, The Architects, the quartet builds on its mishmash of free jazz, rock, and electronics, this time with a new approach for structured compositions.  The beauty of it all? You can’t really tell the difference.  In jazz, it’s said that the best improvised music sounds composed and the best composed music sounds improvised.  As circular as that sounds, the adage holds a lot of wisdom in understanding the merits of Blink and its overall sound.

Listeners will find the nine-song set, entirely composed by bassist Jeff Greene, to have a distinct balance.  Greene’s compositions build on one another, creating a musical dialogue that revisits melodies and textures to create intricate forms of theme and variation.  But the songs still feel open-ended, with solid foundations for drummer Quin Kirchner, guitarist Dave Miller, and saxophonist Greg Ward to instill in them a loose musical chemistry that is spontaneous and artful.

Like any great jazz outfit, each player in the quartet knows the role of his instrument.  The range of noise – lashings of Albert Ayler-styled atonal saxophone rips, scratchy no-wave guitar riffs, staccato snare hits, and ambient electronic drones – encompasses sounds that push the boundaries of tone and texture.

Bookend tracks “Protect From Light” parts I and II set the record’s tone.  Suspended over a bed of looped electronic samples, Ward lays down the song’s central melodic theme.  The sax line is bright and smooth, a stark contrast to Miller’s crunchy guitar and Kirchner’s sparse rhythmic attacks. The electronic samples become more urgent, the drums take a larger presence, and the saxophone becomes free.

For the most part, in exception to a few momentous freak-outs, the quartet has a mellow energy.  But because the instruments communicate so well with one another, the chilled-out energy packs a big punch.  “Social Engineering” is a track with a lot of free-roaming space driven by Miller’s haunting guitar plucking.  Just when a melody begins to materialize, a reverse delay effect is switched on, giving the track a strange, Twilight Zone feel.  But it frees Miller to play over himself, and when he begins to tighten up the space, the rest of the players follow suit.

Whether it’s Ward and Miller trading off forceful phrases in “Align Your Planets,” Greene looping his bass over Kirchner’s flailing on-time/off-time drum fills in “I Will Save The Day (Part II),” or all four players engaging with each other in chaotic climax in “(A) New Life,”  there is usually always a lot of things happening at once.  And even though it sometimes sounds like they all could’ve been playing in separate rooms – sometimes in separate states – they always come back around to drive it home in one single direction.

As the expression of four extremely talented musicians, The Architects is a display of straight-ahead jazz chemistry in its freest form.  Though many jazz groups can be tight, not many can be free. With a modern mix of electronic music and post-rock styles, combined with the confidence to test the boundaries of tone and texture, Blink’s The Architects is a bright spot in the changing face of jazz.

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