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Concert Mon Apr 28 2008
Chicago's jazz and improvised music scene has produced a disproportionate share of iconoclasts and radicals in its long and colorful history. The city that works nurtured Sun Ra and Andrew Hill, Roscoe Mitchell and Lester Bowie, to name just a handful. While Jason Ajemian hasn't reached the musical heights or accomplishments of the aforementioned bunch, he certainly belongs to the Chicago constellation of musical individuality. His concept and approach is anything but traditional, but the results are unique and sometimes extraordinary.
His recent Delmark release with his band Smokeless Heat, The Art of Dying, is emblematic of his approach and musical values. The core of the band consists of Ajemian on bass, Tim Haldeman on saxophone, and Nori Tanaka on drums. Haldeman and Ajemian have a deep musical connection nurtured over years of Sunday sessions that Ajemian held at the Bridgeport Coffee House, where they'd play for hours as a duo with an occasional extra guest. Nori Tanaka was a natural choice for the drummer spot in the band, given his association with Ajemian in A Cushicle, a band that includes Jeff Parker. These chains of collaboration are endemic in the Chicago scene, and they produce the kind of music that we find on The Art of Dying. On the release they are also joined by Jaimie Branch, Jason Adasiewicz and Matt Schneider.
The album is a confident collection of songs played by a group that has moved past the basic mechanics of music to produce sound that is palpably communicative. Compared to Ajemian's previous output, the feel is more lyrical and in the jazz tradition in terms of a sense of swing. Ajemian's bass playing can tend towards the ethereal at times, but he is also a grounding force in the music, holding the center when other elements spiral outwards. Jaimie Branch is in top form and balances Haldeman's approach beautifully, and Adasiewicz's marimba malletry provides the some welcome timbral contrast throughout. There's a wide variety of music presented here in terms of feel and sound, but the personal voices of each musician provide the continuity that keeps it from feeling scattered. The intensely personal liner notes by Ajemian round out the picture of this music and its goals, all of which are achieved.
To celebrate the release, Nori Tanaka has returned from Japan (you can read about his deportation saga here) to play a record release show at Heaven Gallery, as well as a few others while he's in town. Since he's no longer a Chicago resident it's an occasion not to be missed.
Jason Ajemian's Smokeless Heat celebrates the release of The Art of Dying Wednesday, April 30th at Heaven Gallery, 1550 N Milwaukee, 2nd Fl, 773.342.4597