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Jason Roebke Octet: Cinema Spiral

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The Jason Roebke Octet is the gathering of a tribe, a robust contingent of Chicago-based bandleaders who came to prominence mostly during the aughts and frequently play on each other’s records. The group’s 2014 debut, High/Red/Center, was a bruising, squalling collection of 11 songs that often romped like a team of horses, lacing the creamy chromaticism of Mingus with the blues of Julius Hemphill and the urgency of David Murray and Oliver Lake.

Recorded in 2014, shortly after the release of High/Red/Center, Cinema Spiral is very different, a continuous 52-minute performance labeled for listener identification into seven movements. The lineup still features five distinct horns-Josh Berman (trumpet), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Greg Ward (alto), Jason Stein (bass clarinet) and Keefe Jackson (tenor, sopranino and contrabass clarinet)-and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz in lieu of a pianist alongside bassist Roebke and drummer Mike Reed. But for all that firepower, there is a fluttering quietude and intuitive openness, especially in the first half of the work, which feels a bit like early Art Ensemble of Chicago. More specifically, this music evokes Roscoe Mitchell, with whom Roebke served as a copyist in the late ’90s.

Because Cinema Spiral is loosely structured to encourage improvisation, the individual horns show admirable restraint dipping in and out of the mix. They poke at themes, establish patterns and build tension, enhanced by Adasiewicz’s brittle vibes and Roebke’s scampering, Mingus-ian basslines. Berman unfurls a rare extended horn solo halfway through “For a Moment,” near the 20-minute mark of the piece. The music eventually starts to rustle and congeal-the horns begin to parry and prance, tagging each other’s phrases and breaking through into cacophony at the onset of “People Laughing,” before Reed’s drum solo resolves the gushing and brings on the more orderly, occasionally swinging rambunctiousness of “Waiting” and “L’acmé.”

The familiarity here is an enduring pleasure. The eight members share a geography, a sensibility and copious onstage experience in various permutations. Better yet, they regard playing “outside” like a refreshment stand in their comfort zone-a place where intuition trumps ego among friends. When the friends are such creative peers, their trust is well founded.

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Originally Published