Much of the new energy injected into Chicago’s bustling free-jazz and improvised-music scenes over the past year or two has come from a small group of players associated with Amalgam Music, a modest local label run by drummer Bill Harris. His efforts have introduced me to the music of pianist Matt Piet and saxophonist Gerrit Hatcher, among others, and members of the circle to which they belong have made themselves ubiquitous at local spots such as Elastic, Slate Arts, and Constellation. Amalgam also serves a documentary function, preserving these performers’ work and allowing for its wider dissemination—some of the music on the label is free improvisation, which is almost always most meaningful in a live setting, but certain performances are worth returning to.
On Friday the label will issue just such a recording by local free-improvising trio Devouring the Guilt, aka Hatcher, Harris, and bassist Eli Namay. They recorded the self-titled two-track album live at the Empty Bottle in April, infusing its scrappy, seat-of-the-pants feel and muscular attack with a biting energy that’s hard to resist. Hatcher brings plenty of power to his tenor blowing, but the band engages in refined interaction at every turn. When I wrote about a solo tape that Hatcher released earlier this year, I mentioned his engagement with New York free jazz from the late 60s and early 70s—he dedicated pieces to Frank Lowe and Frank Wright—but in Devouring the Guilt he feels rooted less in that sound and more in a visceral, abstract, gesture-based style that’s redolent of European improvised music. His improvisations suggest an awareness of Evan Parker’s extended techniques and Peter Brötzmann’s titanic force, but he does more than assimilate influences: he plays with a clear narrative flow, punctuated by nifty interludes where he toys with a phrase like a cat with a mouse.
As a rhythm section, Namay and Harris are knotty, surging, and explosive, propelling and prodding the saxophonist with an unstinting barrage of motion and sound. Below you can check out the shorter of the album’s two pieces, “Pineapple Sorbet.” The trio celebrate the release of Devouring the Guilt on Wednesday night Elastic, where the program also includes sets by the Angel Bat Dawid Trio, a duo of guitarist Andrew Clinkmann and vocalist Carol Genetti, and DJ Makamena.