Discussing his octet’s blend of textures and soloists in this album’s liner notes, bassist Jason Roebke states, “It’s a struggle, but that’s sort of the point. It’s all about risk and the tension that working on something just beyond our reach creates.” This convergence of possibilities can be heard from the opening bars of High/Red/Center, and it gives the album a drive that doesn’t let up until the end. With five horns on the frontline and a rhythm section of vibes, bass and drums alternately goading them and swinging intensely, Roebke proves to be a forthright leader in addition to the go-to bassist on the Chicago scene.
The members of his octet—Greg Ward (alto saxophone), Keefe Jackson (tenor saxophone), Jason Stein (bass clarinet), Josh Berman (cornet), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes) and Mike Reed (drums)—have worked together in various configurations. Their familiarity helps, whether the program calls for an understated tone poem (“Slow”) or a more traditional ballad (“Shadow” and “Ten Nights” where, respectively, Ward and Bishop play it sweet). Duke Ellington’s influence can be felt in some of the horn voicings, though Roebke’s melodies plant them firmly in the current Chicago sound. The title track gets interesting when the saxophones play a harmonized melody and the ominous brass throw punches behind them. Adasiewicz sounds like he’s mixed into the background, so his visceral style doesn’t overpower the band, yet his ringing notes come through clearly and bind the ensemble sound together. In Roebke, another strong composer has emerged from a fertile scene.