In the Reader‘s Fall Arts preview, I described bassist Matthew Lux as “the Kevin Bacon of Chicago music, connected to just about every important living player in the city.” Unfortunately, most people not directly involved in the scene don’t even know who he is, despite his staggering resumé. Since graduating from Lane Tech in 1991, Lux has worked as a regular sideman in a number of important groups, including Isotope 217 and several bands led by cornetist Rob Mazurek. And over the past couple decades he’s played or recorded in a more fleeting fashion, most often as a bassist, with many other artists—including Iron & Wine, Plush, Smog, Diverse, Azita, Heroic Doses, Peven Everett, and Tranquility Bass. He moves easily among subcultures, playing jazz, rock, R&B, experimental music, and electronic music with equal facility and comfort—Lux’s mobility doesn’t just demonstrate the characteristic openness of Chicago’s music communities but has also actively contributed to it. He’s an omnivore who understands how things fit together.
Given this history, it’s remarkable that the new Contra/Fact (a cassette release from the great Texas label Astral Spirits) is Lux’s first album under his own name—it’s billed to Matthew Lux’s Communication Arts Quartet. Even though he’s clearly privileged working as an ensemble member over pushing a musical agenda of his own, you’d think he would’ve gotten around to a project of his own sooner. His band on Contra/Fact includes drummer Mikel Patrick Avery, cornetist Ben Lamar Gay, and reedist Jayve Montgomery, all of whom add percussion or electronics to their main instrumental contribution. The album covers lots of terrain, including post-Miles Davis electric grooves (the sultry “C.G.L.W.”), hypnotic, probing space voyages (“Colonial Gysins”), shape-shifting modal adventures (“Israels'”), and post-swing ballads (“Gris/Bleu,” which Lux built from Lester Young’s earthy solo on his legendary 1957 performance of “Fine and Mellow” for the TV show The Sound of Jazz). Even when the music pushes into the abstract (“Mercury Lights”), it continues to emphasize a strong, thick pulse. Below you can check out another smoky ballad, “Ninna Nanna.”
Lux and a slightly different version of the band—Gay, Avery, reedist David Boykin, and percussionist Dan Bitney—celebrate the release of the album with a performance Thursday evening at Constellation. Opening the show are guitarists Mark Shippy and Daniel Wyche and drummer Ben Billington, who are likewise celebrating an Astral Spirits release—on their eponymous trio recording, they produce a howling, oversaturated wall of noise.
Vector Families, For Those About to Jazz/Rock, We Salute You (Sunnyside)
Garth Knox, Works for Solo Viola (Montaigne)
Max Eastley & David Toop, Doll Creature (Bip-Hop)
Dennis Brown, A Little Bit More: Joe Gibbs 12″ Selection (1978-83) (17 North Parade)
Kim Myhr, Bloom (Hubro)