Chicago Odense Ensemble: Chicago Odense Ensemble
El Paraiso Records

Chicago Odense Ensemble's self-titled debut album underservedly flew a litle bit under the radar when it was released earlier this year, and the available evidence argues that the album deserved a better fate. Certainly any set that brings together figures such as cornetist Rob Mazurek, Tortoise members Jeff Parker and Dan Bitney, and Danish musicians and Causa Sui members Jonas Munk (aka Manual) and Jakob Skøtt is worthy of attention. A scan of the musicians and their instruments correctly indicates that the group's sound is dense and full. Parker and Munk form a distinguished guitar front-line, of course, and their pairing is mirrored in the drums-and-percussion contributions Bitney and Skøtt bring to the session; bassist Matt Lux and percussionist Brian Keigher round out the players involved.

The collaboration came about during the winter of 2008 when Munk and Skøtt found themselves in Chicago and convening in a studio with the others for a set of improvisations rooted in the spirit of the free-flowing explorations Miles Davis gave us in his Bitches Brew and Live-Evil sets during the ‘70s. As in those cases, the eight tracks on the Chicago Odense Ensemble recording fuse multiple idioms into sprawling, sometimes tumultuous set-pieces, with jazz, funk, and psychedelic rock all liberally drawn upon. And just as Teo Macero did with the hours-long sessions Miles and his musicians laid down, so too did Munk take the Chicago Odense Ensemble's sessions back to his own Odense studio to reshape the material into final form.

In long, free-form settings such as “Emanuelle,” tablas, wah-wah guitars, echoplexed horn, drums, and percussion blend into a steamy broil that evolves organically under the collective's guiding hands. The material is hardly directionless meander; a track such as “Glide Path,” for example, clearly organizes itself around the trumpet nucleus, and consequently, though there's definitely spontaneity in what happens as the piece progresses, it's not without coherence and structure. Other tracks likewise suggest that melodic sketches were in place for the musicians to use as guides that would impose some degree of direction without curtailing the musicians' free-spirited impulses. It's pretty hard for any trumpeter to escape Miles's shadow, and Mazurek at times can't help but bring Davis to mind (during “Soup,” for instance) when blowing in such a Miles-like context. With the cornetist floating above the fray, the musicians dig into a deep funk groove during the album's most incendiary track, “Delivery,” that grows progressively more ferocious until the eleven-minute throwdown explodes in an axe-fueled blaze of Hendrixian fire. But the recording isn't a six-string slingfest, as Parker and Munk largely tend to adopt colouristic and textural roles rather than dominate the material with soloing, and an occasional shelter from the storm emerges, too, such as during “Spine Dots” where flowing lines of the muted horn intone alongside percussive accents and atmospheric guitar shadings.

November 2011