Saturday, May 14, 2011

Chord Four: Californian Avant Garde?

Chord Four (group)
Chord Four (self produced)

Andrew Conrad (tenor sax, clarinet, melodica)
Brandon Sherman (trumpet, flugelhorn)
Brandon Schmidt (bass)
Colin Woodford (drums)

Shimmering. Refreshing. Inviting and clever. Just a few words I would use to describe Chord Four and their self-titled debut. This Los Angeles quartet has found a nice balance between past and present.

Chord Four are part of an emergent California scene that might someday rival Chicago in the free jazz arena. While most new groups emulate their influences, Chord Four seem to have developed a foundation on which they can create new harmonies and patterns that make this debut fun and entertaining.

The two opening tracks display very distinct sides to this quartet. On the opener, "I See Orange, I See Summer, I See Happy People", shows a group enjoying rhythm and structure with elements of Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Lester Bowie and Art Blakey. It's a fast moving calypso pattern that is as infectious as it is intricate.

"The Metamorphosis Of The Gilded Flutterby" sees the group utilizing more improvised aspects within their writing. It has a bit of a Chicago vibe to it (piano-less quartet) with Conrad switching to clarinet and some wonderful playing by Schmidt on bass. "The Metamorphosis..." gently rides itself out with some sweet closing bars from Conrad. The band explores more improvised territory with "Mr. Balvenie", a rolling piece with lots of depth and suspenseful syncopation. It's fun, creative and accessible all at once with driving elements from Woodford and Schmidt.

The Chicago vibe sometimes intertwines with a New Orleans romp as evident on "Waltz," a midtempo piece with stellar interaction between each member. Sherman leads the way with some great passages that also fold nicely into Schmidt's perfect plucking. This tune then elevates slowly without losing its intimacy, and fades out on Conrad notes. Chord Four have this exciting spirit that is built on foundations inhabited by greats like Dave Douglas, Art Ensemble Of Chicago (and if you can remember, even Arto Lindsay's Lounge Lizards). 

Closing out the album is one of those examples of the aforementioned possible influences; "Quiet In The Library" jumps out with a pulsating rhythm lead by Schmidt as the rest of quartet move in to add some strong colour and body to the tune. It's a vivid piece and moves with an impassioned spirit. A perfect way to close out the album.

Most American groups seem to be based around one performer or they are collectives of well established leaders. Chord Four, I hope will break this trend. Their debut is an impressive mixture of free form and access that will hopefully spread over the course the year. Here's to hoping the band get the chance to tour and impress audiences even more than on record.

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