Friday, May 29, 2020

Chicago Avant-Jazz Trio Threadbare Release New CD Silver Dollar

Jason Stein has spent the last fifteen years injecting audiences’ ears with such a singularly unique approach on the bass clarinet that Eric Dolphy may finally find himself denied as the go-to reference for the instrument. Currently Stein leads two bands, Locksmith Isidore and the Jason Stein Quartet, and co-leads Hearts & Minds and Nature Work (with Paul Giallorenzo and Greg Ward respectively). Stein's work with Threadbare, his latest project, places him beside two gifted young Oberlin College graduates and recent Chicago transplants. 

Composers Ben Cruz (guitar) and Emerson Hunton (drums) lock in perfectly as a rhythm section, carefully walking a wire between jazz and rock (they also play together in the indie band Moontype). Cruz is an amazingly versatile guitarist, balancing power chords and intricate jazz runs all over the neck. Both he and Hunton are simple and basic when necessary, but can become absolutely astonishing when appropriate without being showy. Perfect for Stein.

All three members of Threadbare grew up on rock 'n 'roll and their version of it is as thrilling as it is fierce. Cruz’ “Silver Dollar” sounds like he watched the Dead Cs “Armed” writhing on the floor for 25 minutes until he finally proposed the question “Hey, what if we help this thing get up and walk?” To hear Cruz and Stein trade off energy wheezing over Hunton's leg-stomp thudding is a sheer joy. 

So how is Threadbare's jazz game? Well, they have Jason freaking Stein – plus you can go watch a clip of Cruz playing “If I Were A Bell” with a trad bassist and drummer on his website. Check out “And When Circumstances Arrive”, which features a broken melodic structure not unlike the tunes Mary Halvorson composes before flying off into the stratosphere with an especially out solo from Stein. And there's “Funny Thing Is,” which features a lightning fast hard-bop head played in unison by Stein and Cruz before erupting in frenzied bass clarinet spray over abstract jazz guitar block chords and Hunton's out-but-in groove. 

To hear Cruz and Stein trade off on this album is an absolute thrill. The icing on top is the sound of Hunton elevating everything brilliantly. Around the time of The Bells, Lou Reed said something along the lines of “If you can't play jazz and you can't play rock, you put them together and you really have something.” True enough. But what if you can play both fluidly? What if you have a rock 'n' roll heart and a jazz brain and the instincts, chops, and intelligence to pull it all off and make it fly like freedom? You're Threadbare, that's what.

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