Hot Cup Records has released of the ninth recording project from Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord, a new full-length CD and digital download titled Harder on the Outside. This new album comes on the heels of Lundbom's ambitious four-CD/digital EP set released in 2016 and is his first full-length album since 2015's Jeremiah.
The roots of this new album lie in a years-long project between Lundbom and Bryan Murray (a.k.a. the world famous Balto Exclamationpoint). Over the past many years, Murray has developed a passion (and odd sort of fame on Facebook's Jam of the Week) for sampling and beat construction. For the project with Lundbom, Murray sampled old Big Five Chord albums (and related Hot Cup properties) and constructed beats to which Lundbom composed new music. They then sent the tracks back and forth to record live performances of the new music, improvised solos, and accompaniment. The result is called Beats by Balto, Vol. 1, to be released Tuesday, March 19 on Chant records.
Harder on the Outside is, at core, live renditions of the songs composed for this first edition of Beats by Balto! The album was recorded live in studio in New Jersey during the summer of 2018, marking Big Five Chord's fifteenth anniversary as a band. And Harder on the Outside is easily Big Five Chord's strongest outing since 2013's Liverevil, perhaps their finest recording to date.
The title can be taken at least four different ways: (1) as metaphor for one's personality "hardening" with age; (2) as a political statement, about alienation due to rising fascism and xenophobia; (3) as a statement about purity in free/"outside" music/improvisation; and (4) as fact, that it's really hard to make an album when you live in Austin and the rest of your band is in New York.
The album opens with the sole new Lundbom composition NOT from the Beats by Balto! project titled "People Be Talking." Set in a 1970's 6/4, the song features a relatively classic jazz vocabulary-style head over a driving groove laid down by the rhythm section of Moppa Elliott on bass and Dan Monaghan on drums. But when the solos start, Elliott and Monaghan blast off into a borderline-irascible, Afro-Cuban inspired feel. And in comes Bryan Murray on tenor, doing his best Pharaoh Sanders-meets-Albert Ayler. As Murray's solo winds down, the groove disintegrates into a rolling, rollicking out-of-time solo by Lundbom.
It's worth noting that for this album, Lundbom is playing a Fender Jazzmaster retrofitted with experimental pickups built by Chicago's Duneland Labs. These pickups are prototypes built for Nels Cline that now live with Lundbom in Austin, TX. One of Lundbom's goals in recording Harder on the Outside was to employ a wide range of different (non-effected) tones from these extraordinary instruments, and it shows.
Next up: the first composition developed for Beats by Balto!, titled "Basic Bitches." A spare and austere composition, "Basic Bitches" features a droning ostinato-like bass line (doubled by guitar) and somewhat "trap"-inspired drum groove. After the saxophones state the melody three times, Murray picks up his trademark balto! saxophone and teaches a master class in what to do with an alto saxophone with a baritone mouthpiece and plastic reed. Lundbom solos next, opting for more of a Scofield-like tone and approach over Elliott's and Monaghan's mean-ass half-time rock beat.
And then Lundbom & Co. slow it down for "Prednisone," another composition from Beats by Balto! Here, the rhythm section strides forth squarely in dirge mode, as the saxophones wail in mournful, perfect fourths above. Here, the first solo is from long-time "sixth five chord" Mr. Justin Wood on alto saxophone, twisting and dancing delicately through the melodic implications of the theme. But as Wood winds down, Lundbom kicks things into high gear with a loud, fuzz-driven Bobo Alan Holdsworth solo. Having played all of the notes in all of the permutations at all of the speeds, Lundbom calls for a dramatic quits, squealing and squeaking and squonking past the otherwise cleanest of breaks.
Harder on the Outside continues with "Booberonic," a Beats by Balto! composition based around samples from Moppa Elliott's solo bass album Still, Up in the Air (that poor Moppa has to recreate here, over and over). It's a big time groovy number with an intricate, snaky back-and-forth between Murray on tenor and Wood on alto. Solo-wise, Wood gets it going, exploring the nooks and crannies while the rhythm section - unusually - keeps the A section/B section back-and-forth going strong. Lundbom breaks it all up, though, focusing on shorter, more staccato phrasing performed with a thinner, grindier, funkier sound - say, Catfish Collins meets Sonny Sharrock, underwater.
And then comes "Cereal," yet another piece from Beats by Balto! with a dumb joke for a title. Smooth and even and drone-y, nothing but footballs from the horns and nothing but glissando-y, West Coast inspired groove from the rhythm section. Lundbom solos first, finally, playing withŠwhat's this?...a clean "Jazz" tone! And what a clean "Jazz" tone it is. Lundbom plays real pretty for the producer (ibid), bringing thoughtful, tasteful melodic construction to the otherwise rock- and hip-hop-infused session. Next up, Wood (on soprano) in duet with Elliott on the bass, gesturing playfully back-and-forth over Monaghan in pure "solid pocket" mode. Wood "wins" and the piece winds down as gently as it began.
"Fussing Blues" is a "cover," of sorts. Originally written in 1924 for tenor banjo by Frank Littig, Lundbom and Big Five Chord treat it as a great excuse for a 60's-style Free Jazz Romp. The melody is loose, the solos collective, the "jazz ending" (as dictated by the published sheet music) surprisingly tight.
But all things must come to an end and the album shall pass indeed, closing with "Three Plus." There's three saxophones on the head, but - don't worry - Murray is doing double-duty here, overdubbing the third part (he does all three parts on Beats by Balto!). Monaghan (#toms) and Elliott (#RonCarter) REALLY dig in on this one, lending the louche, languorous groove the deepest of pockets. Wood and Murray solo together, and it's awesome. Just awesome. When it comes time for Lundbom to play, he really lets the dogs out, moving through his incredible solo turn with precision and style and fury, closing the album out in style indeed.
But wait! There's more! A bonus track!!! "Basic Bitches (alt)" is an alternate, over-produced (or just masterfully produced for radio?!?) take of "Basic Bitches" in which the rhythm section sticks with the "trap"-inspired groove and Murray plays "MC" with his balto! for like ten minutes or whatever. Call up your local Jazz station and request it by name.
Formed in 2003, Big Five Chord is the primary vehicle for the music of Austin, TX-based guitarist, composer, and bandleader Jon Lundbom. Jon's music - described as "Hardbop + Zeppelin + Schoenberg" (Dave Madden, 'SLUG') - is a showcase for his "intense phrasing and mind-altering solo spots" (Glenn Astarita, 'All About Jazz'), a "boundary-shattering shot of adrenaline that screws with your head and messes with your soul" (Jordan Richardson, 'The Seattle PI'). Jon has been called "an idiosyncratic genius harboring boundary-stretching notions in his musical make up" (CJ Bond, 'JazMuzic.com'); "hopefully Lundbom will start getting more attention for his fresh perspective, both as a writer and player" (Mike Shanley, 'ShanleyOnMusic'), "[Jon's playing brings] new ideas to what jazz guitar can be" (Paul Acquaro, 'Free Jazz Blog'); "Big Five Chord, individually and collectively, is one of the most important [ensembles] around today" (Gregory Applegate Edwards, 'Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog'). "Olympic-caliber guitar gymnastics" (Bob Gendron, 'Downbeat'). "A guitarist" (The New York Times). In addition to Big Five Chord, Lundbom performs with many other groups, most notably Bryan & the Haggards.
Justin Wood grew up in frozen Northern Maine, which might account for his warm sound and "spark-spewing solos that showcase the alto's best qualities" (All About Jazz). Living in New York City for the past two decades, Justin has established a presence as a highly versatile and always unique voice on the saxophones and flute.
Originally from West Virginia, balto! saxophonist Bryan Murray (a.k.a. Balto Exclamationpoint) leads Bryan and the Haggards, New York City's most decorated avant-country instrumental Merle Haggard cover band; their collaboration with the legendary Eugene Chadbourne "Merles Just Wanna Have Fun" is available now from Northern Spy. He has toured with David Byrne and St. Vincent, recently released a solo hip-hop recording on his balto! saxophone, and is featured heavily on Facebook's "Jam of the Week." www.bryanmurray.net
Accomplished bassist and composer Moppa Elliott is leader of the band Mostly Other People Do the Killing. A Pennsylvania native and graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Moppa has appeared in the DownBeat Critics' Poll in three different categories: Rising Star Bassist, Rising Star Composer, and Rising Star Arranger. He teaches music at The Information Technology High School in Long Island City and runs Hot Cup records. http://www.moppaelliott.com
Dan Monaghan, a native of Mansfield, Pennsylvania who teaches percussion at Temple and Widener Universities, is one of Philadelphia's most in-demand drummers. Dan has performed and/or recorded with jazz luminaries such as Eric Alexander, Peter Bernstein, Jimmy Bruno, Joe Magnarelli, and Randy Brecker and is equally at home playing straight-ahead jazz and aggressive rock and metal, making him the perfect drummer for Big Five Chord.