The Chicago ensemble Xmarsx has effectively mixed elements of the avant-garde and vintage jazz-rock on this self-titled, nine-song set of originals. The core group includes a wonderful bassist in Kent Kessler, whose broad, looping lines and rhythmic intensity nicely drive several numbers, among them "Punch the Monkey," "The Worm" and "Unstuck." The band's prime soloists are saxophonist Mars Williams and guitarist Greg Suran. Williams is an able, fiery player whose only fault is an occasional overreliance on distortion, screams and squalls to punctuate his statements. Suran smoothly delivers flashy, swirling lines, funky licks or answering refrains to the equally slashing phrases of guest guitarist Wayne Kramer, who joins cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm on five selections. Drummer David Suycott's role is more supportive than supervisory, but he nicely makes textural adjustments, consistently easing Xmarsx through tempo and mood changes, particularly on the intriguing "Ultraman vs. Alien Metron."
Xmarsx's tunes span the idiomatic gamut, from deft tributes to the late Eddie Harris through pieces blending harsh exchanges with understated, haunting melodies. Principal songwriter Williams penned several numbers with multiple sections, and he's able to creatively weave loops, feedback and sound effects into his pieces without them degenerating into gimmickry. Xmarsx can swing, but that's not their prime purpose. Rather, it is making unpredictable, sometimes chaotic, but mostly satisfying contemporary music with some humor and an edge.