You don't have to get past the second track on this debut from Chicago drummer Ted Sirota to take a guess at the age of the players: I doubt anyone but a well-schooled Generation-Xer would think to use a hip-hop beat to reprise the Sonny Rollins free-jazz theme "East Broadway Rundown." Sirota's Rebel Souls offer an especially good representation of young jazz in Chicago, identifiable by its side-by-side emphasis of both traditional forms and the city's avant-garde legacy. The quartet's tenor man, newcomer Kevin Kizer, has a wide expressive range that allows him to shriek effectively on the Rollins tune, to caress the album's two lullabies, and to hungrily chomp the chords to Thelonious Monk's "Brilliant Corners." The unassuming bassist Jeff Hill has a lovely sound that supports both the ensemble and his own firmly rooted solos. Sirota himself provides a sure and relatively spare drive; this allows you to pay full attention to his meticulous use of drum timbre and the imaginative rhythms with which he embroiders the beat (all of which comes to a head in his extended solo on his own composition, "Song For Mumia"). And the band's repertoire balances between noteworthy originals and a focused examination of the canon: in addition to Monk and Rollins, Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden are represented.
Still, Jeff Parker threatens to quietly steal the show. The Souls' accomplished young guitarist solos with the effortless lope of Wes Montgomery but the open ears of the AACM players in whose groups he often appears. Parker's improvisations take one step back from Kizer's full-tilt energy to offer a symbiotic contrast, and his chords and colors help lift this from a smart rhythm section to an exceptional one. The entire project, released on an English label (with U.S. distribution) benefits from the garage-band tilt of the sound mix; it slightly muddies the outlines, resulting in a coherent sonic signature just the opposite of "slick." Sirota and company don't need antiseptic studio techniques to make their music jump out of the box.