In this week’s paper I previewed Saturday’s performance at Constellation by the Jason Roebke Octet. Shows by that group have become infrequent since two of its members, trombonist Jeb Bishop and alto saxophonist Greg Ward, moved away from Chicago. Ward’s residence in New York is also the reason that Roebke’s other band, a quartet called the Jason Roebke Combination, doesn’t play much either—a real shame based on its eponymous debut album, released by the bassist himself this past summer. The band, which also includes Frank Rosaly on drums and Brian Labycz on modular synthesizer, explores an odd, unexpected collision of postbop, free improvisation, and noise.

I wrote about the group a few years ago, and at the time I quoted some ideas Roebke had shared with me about a solo record he’d made and how some of the structural and compositional notions behind it related to his approach for the Combination:

“I am thinking of streams of material that come in and out and sometimes overlap. I always want to make my solo pieces rich and full sounding while keeping the idea of one person playing, and the thinness of that, as two ideas that compete in some, hopefully, compelling way.” He also wrote, “So for the new quartet project, I want to explore how four quite different musicians use variations on these streaming ideas. I’m proposing some different strategies for group improvisation. Maybe just so it can all go completely free again.”

Indeed, one of the most arresting (if not confounding) things about the Combination is the almost nonchalant juxtaposition of lines—especially the grotty, abstract splatters and gurgles of electronic sound generated by Labycz. Roebke has told me that when he tried shopping the album to labels, many folks responded with utter confusion at Labycz’s role; his contributions never fit neatly into the bassist’s lean postbop themes, and at times suggest that he ended up at the wrong recording session. But to me that’s one of the most exciting elements of the band, which constantly recycles written and structural material within a given piece on the fly.

On the piece “Scanning,” which you can listen to below, there’s a loose, buoyant groove, with Ward blowing wonderfully elliptical yet jaunty alto lines that suggest the music of Steve Coleman—but if someone were constantly shuffling, ripping apart, or pulling away parts of the sheet music. A couple of minutes in, the focus shifts to some evocative but restrained patter from Rosaly, a high-end electronic presence that suggests something between radio static and the 60-cycle hum of an electrical system, and tangled lines by the leader that alternate clearly articulated notes and percussive thwacks. Eventually, the theme returns, but with ghostly remnants of that abstract percussive section still gurgling away. The weird intersections constantly cast each sonic element within the band in contextual lights. Unfortunately, the Combination doesn’t have any scheduled performances, but I’m hoping that’ll change with one of Ward’s future visits.

Today’s playlist:

Pearl Necklace, Soft Opening (Smalltown Supersound)
Caleb Burhans, Evensong (Cantaloupe)
Jim Hall & Pat Metheny, Jim Hall & Pat Metheny (Nonesuch)
Mind Over Mirrors , When the Rest Are Up at Four (Immune)
Various artists, Eat the Dream: Gnawa Music From Essaouiria (Sublime Frequencies)