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Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth: Epicenter

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Epicenter is Chris Lightcap’s tribute to his adopted home of New York City, as seven of its eight songs are taken from his Lost and Found in New York, the result of a commission from Chamber Music America. The album begins with an homage to Lightcap’s former drive from the Berkshires into the metropolis, via “Nine South,” buffed by a giddy Wurlitzer riff from Craig Taborn reminiscent of Nigerian highlife music. Before long, the tenors of Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek are in chromatic force, yielding to a hypnotic exchange between Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Later, on the short, torrid “Down East,” Taborn pounds out acoustic chords and the tenors squawk and bray like a drunken family reunion before everyone rides home to a metronomic rock pulse. The closing track and lone non-original is a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” with Taborn’s hammering keys in lieu of the strumming guitars and the saxes taking on the part of Nico’s vocal.

Bigmouth balances these raucous workouts with refined and reflective jazz tone-poetry. Lightcap pulls out the acoustic guitar and teams up with Taborn on organ for “White Horse,” an ode to the literary bar in Greenwich Village. “Stone by Stone” is a gorgeous, harmonically adventurous jaunt through the gardens of Fort Tryon Park. “Stillwell” pays evocative homage to the transit stop near Coney Island; the band performs with a muted sparkle that conjures images of distant, dappled lights at an amusement park.

Bigmouth reminds us that it is a jazz supergroup on the title track to Epicenter, a paean to the Village Vanguard. There are magnificent, scouring solos from both tenors and a bit of a return to the Ornette Coleman influence that was more prominent before Taborn joined the band. You hear the serpentine telepathy of ace musicians who continually perform on each other’s projects. And from Epicenter as a whole, you hear how Lightcap is channeling the bass thrum and compositional spirit of Charles Mingus, mixed with the genre daredevilry of Sex Mobb or the Bad Plus. It’s a big mouthful.

Originally Published