By Tim Niland
The Chicago Plan is an exciting new project that brings together longtime creative partners Steve Swell on trombone and Gebhard Ullmann on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet and matches them with Windy City stalwarts Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics and Michael Zerang on drums. The results are very positive, with brawny modern jazz being combined with an experimental tinge culminating in excellent results. The album begins with “Variations on a Master Plan, Pt. 3” with brisk playing from the horns on the frontline, and solid cello and drums underneath. The music is brawny and focused, opening up space for a saxophone and trombone dialogue, before stronger drums and bowed cello reenter the picture and have their own moment in the sun, then developing a fine full band collective improvisation. The massive eighteen minute edifice of “Composite #10” begins with an very impressive open ended percussion solo, which develops a wide range of rhythmic possibilities. The music then unfolds like in a suite like fashion, with the horns and cello barrelling in forcefully, making for an exciting and slashing improvised section for the whole group. Sawing cello and saxophone duel in a stark and unadorned manner, then lead the music to a more subtle and abstract arena. The music boldly moves between abstraction and full throated improvisation, weaving the threads together seamlessly. “Rule #1 Make Sure You Can Play Your Own Tune” comes out hard with a beefy theme that the musicians then develop variations upon, with rough, tough horns muscling through strident drums and cello. Ullman breaks free for an exciting saxophone solo aided by fast paced drums and cello, which take the deep structure of the music and pull it together. Swell then steps forward for a fine feature of his own, followed by a raw and scouring cello section, before everyone comes together to power forward to the conclusion. This is exciting modern jazz that stretches across broad swaths of improvised music, it is strong, and occasionally abstract but ultimately riveting. The music makes for a set of challenging musical sensibilities but remains accessible to the listener, and make one hope that this is the first of many albums from this excellent band.