Chicago Reed Quartet
  • Dave Zuchowski
  • Chicago Reed Quartet

Last year the Chicago Reed Quartet, one of the city’s most potent and promising new improvised-music ensembles, disbanded suddenly after Ken Vandermark quit in the fall; he also shut down his spectacular Audio One at the same time, essentially withdrawing from his two main Chicago-based projects. Before the group fell apart it had been rehearsing and developing its repertoire, and last August it spent an afternoon recording at the Hungry Brain for a debut album. Thankfully, on Western Automatic the unit’s rich, contrapuntal power (released by ensemble member Dave Rempis on his Aerophonic label) is memorialized.

The album features two compositions from each member—Vandermark, Rempis, Mars Williams, and Nick Mazzarella, players whose age range spans four decades. While the writing covers plenty of turf, from the pointillistic jabs and feints of Vandermark’s “Broken Record Fugue” to the velvety plushness of Mazzarella’s loosely Ellingtonian “Remnant,” the quartet had forged a clear identity over its short history. Considering how fiery and abstract the playing of each member in CRQ tends to be, I was initially a bit surprised to hear the group warmly embrace tender melodic shapes and rich harmony in its arrangements, recalling the sound of World Saxophone Quartet as much or more than Bay Area experimentalists ROVA—it’s a quality that balances the more extroverted, splintered fury that drives Rempis’s “The Rush.” Getting to soak in the rich detail of the album is wonderful, but the fact that we won’t get to hear these pieces performed live is all the more disappointing. Below you can hear the stunning album opener “Burn Unit,” a piece by Williams.

Today’s playlist:

Vadim Neselovskyi, Music for September (Sunnyside)
Hobart Smith, In Sacred Trust: The 1963 Fleming Brown Tapes (Smithsonian Folkways)
Luke Bedford, Wonderful Two-Headed Nightingale (Col Legno)
Al Bilali Soudan, Al Bilali Soudan (Clermont Music)
Paco de Lucia, El Duende Flamenco de Paco de Lucia (Philips, Spain)