If the avant-garde act Frequency is, for the most part, somewhat less than avant-garde, it’s probably because the Chicago quartet revisits so many elements of its hometown past. Burbling percussion? Whimsical riffs? Atonal squall? Check, check and double-check.
The only thing distinguishing multi-instrumentalist Ed Wilkerson’s new band from those that merely preach to the choir is its sense of proportion. Sure, the improvisations on the band’s debut tend to follow the typical soft-loud-soft dynamic that has defined free jazz for decades. The freewheeling 18-minute track “Satya,” in particular, could be a performance by almost any group currently exploring well-mapped margins. But for all the chaos, there’s plenty of beauty as well.
An album full of tunes as strong as “Portrait of Light,” a ballad centered on a loose, folksong chord progression, would be a shoo-in for year-end Top 10s. And even a mixed bag such as “Take Refuge” frames its Windy City profligacy with a 52nd-Street melody. Clock this sucker with a stopwatch and it’s probably got more of the former than the latter, which makes it more of a diehard’s platter than anything else. Still, a promising debut is a promising debut. And that’s more avant-garde than no promise at all.