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Rapid Croche
Jazz Weekly
Ken Waxman
Every three decades or so Chicago improvisers become the focus of the music world -- or perhaps the rest of the planet merely catches up with what's been happening in the Windy City all along.

This first took place in the late 1920s when young lions such as Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines revolutionized jazz music with a solo-oriented approach. Then in the mid-1960s, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM) appeared with explorers like Roscoe Mitchell and Muhal Richard Abrams who showed that free music could be complex and meticulous as well as blues-based and emotional. Fast forward to the 21st century, and everyone from Austrian laptopers to German ecstatic soloists appears to be working with a new wave of Chicago-based players.

Fulcrum on which this all rests is multi-reedist Ken Vandermark, whose numberless groups, endless promotion and MacArthur "genius" grant status help spread the word. In truth, the essence of the new Chicago sound isn't that much different from what perspicuous improvisers are doing elsewhere: adding their own spin to ideas and influences from everywhere.

Someone whose experience encompasses collaborations with Japanese musicians in that country, dance groups, membership in Tigersmilk with cornetist Rob Mazurek and drummer Dylan van der Schyff, plus sideman work with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm's Valentine Trio and Terminal 4, Roebke has made Rapid Croche his working trio for the past two years. It shows. While the bassist's morose take on things compositionally could use with some livening up, each piece at least seems to reach the target at which it aims.

"It's Enough" and "Like You Thought It Might Be," for instance, are andante excursions informed by the type of jiggly rhythms Ornette Coleman introduced with his Prime Time band. With a reed tone here midway between Coleman's and AACMer Henry Threadgill, who sometimes works the same territory, Shelton turns out a perky, shaded solo on the later tune, then growls out split tones from his body tube. On the former he reed bites, flutter tongues and changes the pitch as he plays, concentrating his sound into a claxon-like tone as Daisy drags and paradiddles. Shuffle rhythms predominate on the later with Roebke showcasing a four-to-the-bar beat on an elongated solo.

"Whatever You Think Is Beautiful," guided by unison trilling clarinet and bowed bassline, moves forward in reedy lockstep as if Roebke was playing bass clarinet instead of the stringed kind. Daisy contributes mallet sounds on his drum heads and the tune ends with the undertow of Shelton's constricted reed tone joining the bassist's double-stopping arco line.

In other spots Roebke's production ranges from powerful, near swinging string tugs and melancholy, bowed bass lines to spidery rubberband-like speed. Also, while Shelton may introduce a slow moving, but vibrated full clarinet tone, on faster tempos his fluid runs are as light as those played by Jimmy Noone when Hines was his sideman in the 1920s.

Rapid Croche confirms the creative Chicago continuum that has lasted from the 1920s to the 21st century, and outlines what can be done with a concentrated trio effort.

excerpted from a review of Rapid Croche and Triage; the complete review is here

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