Chicago’s fertile improvised-music landscape is chock full of A-listers and Adam Shead—a multidisciplinary artist, composer, improviser, and powerhouse drummer—is one of them. The hectic, rapid-fire din he turned loose on this year’s Volumes & Surfaces is a blast of free-jazz fury well worth your time.
On Full Cycle, Thread New, Shead also delves into improvisational freakouts, but they’re just a few pieces of a sprawling stylistic puzzle. With Shead leading the charge, wielding a highly versatile approach that hurdles from delicately busy restraint to turbulent onslaught, his formidable quintet—Jeff Kimmel (clarinets), Ishmael Ali (cello, electronics), Matt Piet (piano), and Andrew Scott Young (double bass)—is a force to be reckoned with. And the fact this set was recorded live (at Chicago performing arts center Constellation) makes it an even more impressive feat.
With a focus on “concepts of reformation, regeneration,” and other themes, Full Cycle, Thread New’s single long-form composition (in three marathon movements) exudes spiritual renewal vibes of sorts. As the three pieces unfurl with free-floating ease, Shead and company cast a spell on the listener with a pulsating, entrancing momentum. While thick textural layers and dense complexities are applied, addictive melodies always rise to the top. On “Mvt. ii,” the quintet channels Monk with some hard-charging bebop stylings; Piet’s otherworldly piano work shines, met by Kimmel’s soaring clarinet lines and Ali’s sci-fi-ish swooshes and streaks. Acing a gamut of drone, bebop, free improv and more, Full Cycle, Thread New is an all-embracing epic to behold.