Lucky 7’s – Pluto Junkyard (CF 141)
The brainchild of trombonists Jeb Bishop and Jeff Albert, the Lucky 7’s are a consummate example of post-Vandermark Chicago-based collectivism. Bishop’s longstanding work with fellow artists such as Rob Mazurek, Ted Sirota and Ken Vandermark informs his inside-outside approach, lending a forward thinking but historically aware sensibility to this versatile mid-sized ensemble. A New Orleans native, Albert brings the weight of his hometown’s history to play in this rousing septet, finding common ground between Big Easy swagger and Windy City muscle.
Joining Bishop and Albert on the brass heavy front line is the veteran performing duo of cornetist Josh Berman and tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson. Together with Bishop and Albert they form an engaging horn section, unfurling pointillist explorations one minute and rousing Second Line riffs the next. Vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz and former New Orleans residents bassist Matthew Golombisky and drummer Quin Kirchner comprise the swinging rhythm section, with Adasiewicz’s scintillating accents amplifying the unit’s unique tonality.
Pluto Junkyard is their sophomore effort, following their 2006 debut Farragut (Lakefront Digital). The majority of the pieces are written by Bishop or Albert, with one each from Jackson and Kirchner. Eschewing conventional AABA forms and head-solo-head structures, these episodic tunes feature an array of advanced compositional devices. Shifting tempos, fluctuating rhythms and unexpected bridges, turnarounds and codas yield a string of dynamic mood changes. Vibrant bouts of controlled collective improvisation and effusive unaccompanied horn cadenzas materialize repeatedly throughout the album, revealing conceptual parallels between Chicago-based, AACM-oriented free improvisation and New Orleans-styled polyphony.
Extrapolating the advancements of Post-War jazz with an infectious blend of contrapuntal invention and elastic freedom, many of the tunes invoke the seminal efforts of visionaries like Andrew Hill, Oliver Nelson and George Russell. The album’s second half maintains this abstract yet accessible approach with a few stylistic detours, including “Future Dog (For Jaki)” which vacillates between collective freedom and funky Afro-Latin grooves, and Albert’s introspective post-Katrina meditation “Afterwards.” The coruscating power chords that fuel “The Dan Hang” feature Bishop tearing into his rarely played electric guitar, while “Sunny’s Bounce” is a joyous, in-the-pocket ode to Sun Ra’s early Delmark sides, closing the album on a high note.
Approaching classic New Orleans traditions from a modernist perspective, the Lucky 7’s challenge preconceived notions about contemporary brass bands. An excellent offering from the fertile Chicago-New Orleans axis, Pluto Junkyard presents a compelling vision of the future, informed by the past.