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Matthew Lux’s Communication Arts Quartet: Contra/Fact (Astral Spirits)

A review of the Chicago bassist's debut album with a new ensemble

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Cover of Contra/Fact album by Matthew Lux's Communication Arts Quartet
Cover of Contra/Fact album by Matthew Lux’s Communication Arts Quartet

Although Matthew Lux has long been a staple of Chicago’s experimental music underground, having logged time in post-rock unit Isotope 217 and garnered a solid reputation as a sideman for cornetist Rob Mazurek, the bassist and composer has now officially joined the high ranks with his debut as a leader. Accompanied by an ensemble he’s dubbed Communication Arts Quartet (drummer Mikel Patrick Avery, saxophonist Jayve Montgomery, and cornetist Ben LaMar Gay), Lux has made a debut as exciting and classification-defying as Jaimie Branch’s Fly or Die and Gay’s Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun.

On Contra/Fact, Lux and his terrifically versatile band create a shapeshifting sound-world that nods to both the world-music-meets-electronic experimentation of Mazurek and drummer Chad Taylor’s Chicago Underground collective and the post-jazz grittiness of guitarist Jeff Parker’s 2016 gem, The New Breed. Lux loosely coins his aesthetic “space-folk,” and judging from the alien sounds that cascade throughout the set, Contra/Fact may not in fact be of this earth. Appropriately, Lux captains the ship, anchoring and propelling the record’s eight tunes with hefty, throbbing bass grooves that prove to be rhythmic bliss. That’s evident on the funky chug of the bouncy opening track, “Camisa Sete,” the Sun Ra-channeling “Ninna Nanna,” the glitchy electronic swirl of “Paw Paw,” and the tribal trance-jazz of “Israels’.”

Contra/Fact originally came out in 2017 on cassette; then Lux, along with Leroy Bach of Wilco, re-edited the album earlier this year for digital formats, complete with a new running order. But no matter which version you hear, the sonic realms that Lux, Avery, Montgomery, and Gay explore remain warped yet melodic.

Preview or download Contra/Fact on Amazon!

Originally Published