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Keefe Jackson’s Project Project: Just Like This

From the moment it begins, Just Like This-a free-jazz session by Chicago saxophonist/clarinetist Keefe Jackson and his 12-piece Project Project-is inspired music. Its opener, “Dragon Fly,” begins with sparse, atonal counterpoint between trombonists Nick Broste and Jeb Bishop (exploring the opposite ends of the instrument’s range), but suddenly bursts into a rich big-band arrangement with swing so infectious that the previous section’s difficulty evaporates from memory. That exchange between jazz’s outer fringe and inviting center is the album’s dominant motif.

“Tilted,” a slow, orchestral behemoth, sets up a full-band fortissimo that never comes; instead it slides into angular dialogue between Josh Berman’s cornet, Guillermo Gregorio’s alto, and Dave Rempis’ baritone. On “Just Like This,” the head echoes Mingus in its syncopation and dark reed arrangements, but Jackson’s tenor shifts the ensemble into a meditative polyphony that alludes to early ’60s avant-garde. As cerebral as all this sounds (and is), it never separates from the rhythmic ferocity built by bassist Anton Hatwich and drummer Frank Rosaly. That, combined with Jackson’s ear for warm melodies and arrangements, keeps the music aimed directly at the gut. Importantly, it also allows the listener to acclimate quickly and break through its inhospitable surface; deciphering the fall-where-they-may harmonies and solo phrases remains challenging, but it’s great fun.

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