• Jacob Hand
  • Colorlist

Since saxophonist Charles Gorczynski left Chicago for Oakland, California, in the summer of 2011, Colorlist, his long-running duo with percussionist Charles Rumback, has been a very scant presence around town. A Chicago performance drought stretching back to March 2011 ends on Saturday when Colorlist reconvenes for a concert at Constellation in support of a lovely new album called Sky Song (Serein).

Although improvisation remains a crucial methodology of Colorlist’s music, calling it jazz is a real stretch, especially on the new record, where the duo often push more boldly into the terrain of ambient drift. But that’s not the case when Sky Song‘s opening track, “Sun Song,” begins, as rolling tom-and-snare patter and skittering cymbal work set a relatively turbulent foundation for the overdubbed coats of Gorczynski’s terse soprano flutter and plangent flute lines, as well as washes of synthesizer, until the thickening sound mass wipes out the percussive force with a meditative beauty that keeps building, layer by layer, harmony by harmony. But Colorlist do much more than simply create lush, hypnotizing soundscapes; the next track, “Montreal,” a gorgeous constellation of melodic lines formed by flutes and saxophones and shadowed by electronics, suggests what the French duo Air might have sounded like if they pursued a more languid, improvisational approach. There are churning, spacey synth parts on “Through the Fires,” but if the listener peels away the electronic embroidery there’s some genuinely fiery blowing, the duo summoning the spiritual power of Interstellar Space, the classic album by John Coltrane and Rashied Ali made shortly before the reedist’s death in 1967.

The duo has such a strong identity that even when they’re joined by guest musicians—”Currents” includes modular synthesizer parts from Josh Eustis, who produced the album, and John Hughes, and guitar from Jeff Parker—the elements are so meticulously blended into the mix that you almost don’t notice that the sound palette has been enhanced. In the live setting Colorlist manages to come close to replicating the lushness of its studio work, but the real draw is observing how the players spontaneously transform and tweak the material, underlining the improvisation ethos inherent in its music. Below you can check out the album’s beautifully mournful closer, “Safe Years.”

Today’s playlist:

Nacka Forum, Fee Fi Fo Rum (Moserobie)
The Flying Lizards, The Flying Lizards (Microwerks)
Frank Kimbrough Trio, Live at Kitano (Palmetto)
Doris Monteiro, 60 (Discobertas)
Iro Haarla, Ulf Krokfors and Loco Motife, Penguin Beguine (TUM)