For all the lip service paid to “original thinking,” it often illuminates the surest path to obscurity in this world obsessed with sequels and reruns. That may well be the ultimate fate of the group led by guitarist Steve Grismore and reedist Paul Scea, but judging by its trajectory so far, it won’t go down without turning a few heads. Grismore and Scea’s music resists categorization in the best sense: it so successfully avoids cliches that the usual shorthand used to describe music falls, well, short. For me, Grismore’s chameleonic guitar textures, which range from hard-bop tonal purity to the more extreme timbres made possible by electronic manipulation, best symbolize the band’s delightful, brain-teasing looseness. This quality might well stem from the group’s physical rootlessness–they literally come from all over the map. Grismore helps preside over the Iowa City jazz scene (which is busier than you might think), Scea lives in West Virginia, bassist John Turner works out of Boston, and trumpeter Tim Hagans and drummer Matt Wilson base their operations in New York. But the band sounds neither east coast nor midwest, and sometimes it doesn’t even sound like the crack improvising unit it assuredly is: when Scea switches from tenor to flute, Hagans mutes his horn, and Grismore bends and fuzzes his tone, they inhabit a niche somewhere between early Weather Report and a modern chamber ensemble. A couple years ago, after these guys had released their first album–an intriguing mix of highly original thinking and sly homages to their musical heroes–they came through town and exceeded all expectations. The music kept us simultaneously tapping our toes and perched on the edges of our seats. This time they’ll be playing material from their sprightlier second album, Of What (Accurate)–filled with off-kilter allusions, unfamiliar voicings, and pithy compositions–and the two New Yorkers arrive having further solidified their place in modern jazz. In other words, miss them at your own peril. Saturday, 10 PM, Bop Shop, 5419 N. Clark; 773-275-7771. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Steve Grismore photo/ uncredited.