Point of Departure review by Art Lange

Keefe Jackson Quartet – Seeing You See (CF 176)
Previously found at the head of a sextet, Fast Citizens, and the double-that-size Project Project (both have discs on Delmark) – bands which demonstrate his burgeoning compositional chops while serving as outlet for some of Chicago’s most potent soloists – Arkansas-native and Windy City-transplant Jackson here ups the ante by downsizing the manpower. With his name on the marquee and having provided all ten of the program’s diverse tunes and/or strategies for improvisation (from the buoyant “Put My Finger On It” to the airy textural exploration “Since Then,” the fanfare of “Word Made Fresh” to the dirge-like “Close”), there’s no doubt who’s in charge; nevertheless, there are contrasting aspects within his own musical nature that result in a yin/yang coexistence of tensions in the group dynamic. For example, the quartet format ensures plenty of solo space, and one attractive source of tension is the way in which Jackson’s tenor saxophone improvisations balance ardor with control, spontaneity with thoughtfulness, such as the momentum created by his asymmetrical phrases and surprising accents in “If You Were,” or his eruption of notes in “Eff-time.” With trombonist Jeb Bishop as ebullient frontline foil, contributing racy escapades and a mastery of buzzing, growling, snarling mutes, the intensity level soars; their relationship is frequently reminiscent of the Archie Shepp/Roswell Rudd ‘60s partnership, especially their tart harmonization of themes, episodes of counterpoint and overlapping comments (heard on “Maker” and “Turns to Everything”), and the seemingly spontaneous riffs that twist the music off on unexpected tangents. By working in so many similar, small but effectively arranged details, Jackson escalates the tension between the expressive solos and their structural settings. The rhythm section, bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Noritaka Tanaka, offers its own layer of tension – subtle rather than rambunctious, they rumble rather than roar, and occasionally evaporate completely. There’s nothing particularly new here; it’s an uncommon mixture of the familiar and the distinctive that sets this music apart from the crowd.

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