Jackson / Baker / Kirshner - So Glossy and So Thin Music Album Reviews

Jackson / Baker / Kirshner - So Glossy and So Thin Music Album Reviews
This Chicago trio makes the rare free-jazz album that goes down easy, playing with a grace that makes even the farthest-out moments feel accessible.

Keefe Jackson, Jim Baker, and Julian Kirshner are all lesser-known musicians in Chicago’s perennially rich jazz and free-improv scene, a trio of role players whose innovations have yet to receive their proper appreciation outside of the Windy City. So Glossy and So Thin, their second trio release following 2016’s The Noisy Miner, should change all of that. Taken from a pair of performances at Roscoe Village venue The Hungry Brain in 2018 and 2019, the album’s two 20-minute tracks are a showcase not only for their talents as individuals, but also for the depth of their connection. The ease with which they handle this music makes even their farthest-out moments feel accessible. The joyful spirit behind Jackson, Baker, and Kirshner’s explorations makes So Glossy and So Thin the rare free-jazz album that goes down easy.

Part of its charm has to do with how clearly these three enjoy playing with one another. They come off like they’re racing to an agreed-upon location by separate routes. Jackson’s sax and Baker’s piano tease and tickle in the opening moments of “Then,” rolling around like a pair of dogs in a yard. They shift in and out of time with one another, with the rapidly assembled patterns of Kirshner’s drumming providing a kind of mosaic-tiled ground for the other two to race over. At times they pump like a New Orleans funk band, full of footloose swagger and goofy gestures. At others, they bang out stormy pulses and thick, dissonant chords that would be at home on the experimental series of a major symphony orchestra.

What links these moments together and keeps So Glossy and So Thin from feeling disconnected is how smoothly they transition from section to section. Once they’ve exhausted “Then”’s opening, the trio deftly glides from all-out clatter to low-volume tinker with the grace of a pelican skimming the ocean, setting the stage for a gorgeous off-blue solo from Jackson. They make it work in reverse, too, raising “and again” from a simmer so slowly you don’t notice how hot things have become until they turn it back down again.

That low section in “and again” is one of the album’s most effective moments. It’s built around a long solo from Kirshner, who takes a note from Rashied Ali and treats his cymbals like hanging sound bowls; he keeps them at a steady ring while attending to a nervous pulse out of the kick drum, with a few strokes of tom providing the color. The motion is constant, but Kirshner’s playing is so deft —he taps the bell of the cymbal like he’s testing an egg — it feels like an ASMR recording, or the distant buzz and thump of a highly pitched synthesizer.

As if to not be outdone, Baker brings out an actual synthesizer in “and again.” While Sun Ra was incorporating electronics into his music by the early 1960s, and Patrick Gleeson’s modular synths were crucial to the success of Herbie Hancock’s wildest mid-’70s experiments, Baker has over his many years working with the ARP 2600 developed a mode of playing that gives the synth an expressive range as wide as any wind instrument. Stacked against the cough and yawp of Jackson’s sopranino sax, the ARP comes alive. Baker almost seems to be breathing through the machine, making it howl and groan, and teetering between tonality and atonality. Jackson picks around the ARP’s edges, goading Baker deeper and deeper, before breaking off and joining Kirshner’s rattling toms to create a pattern that itself feels like the product of a modular synth. They play in this free space — lines between sax, synth, and drums obliterated — for a few moments, then move on.

At its core, So Glossy and So Thin is nothing more than three musicians creating an environment where they can test out some of their best ideas. Remarkably, every single one of them pays off. While the music isn’t simple, it’s always convincing, like watching a movie in a foreign language: Even if you can’t follow the plot, the emotional contours are plain as day.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Jackson / Baker / Kirshner - So Glossy and So Thin Music Album Reviews Jackson / Baker / Kirshner - So Glossy and So Thin Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, September 28, 2020 Rating:

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