Jeff Kimmel Quartet – Charm Offensive (2011)

photo by Amanda Raber

At thirty-one minutes, this debut album by the Jeff Kimmel Quartet is shorter than some EP’s, but bass clarinetist Kimmel and his friends make the most of their time. Charm Offensive, as the record is called, is the fruit from a grant by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, a vote of confidence from the community to where Kimmel moved to from Boston only about five years earlier. It’s an investment that was justified: whereas another Chicago group, led by Jason Stein, reaped new ideas from the fertile grounds of 50s avant garde, so does Kimmel’s group expand on avant principles brought forth in the 60s, primarily by Eric Dolphy and Chicago legend Roscoe MItchell (with whom Kimmel has been recently selected to work with). Kimmel is supported greatly by Keefe Jackson on tenor sax (who also plays in Stein’s quartet), Nels Cline Singers bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Marc Riordan.

Kimmel’s music stretches the elasticity of the music about as far as it can go short of being free jazz. Firm, bop-based themes are often set up at the beginning of songs before the band proceeds to thoroughly deconstruct them. The exuberant “Riposte” does just that, as Kimmel and Jackson tests timbre possibilities on their respective horns. My favorite of the batch is “Brownlands” (Youtube below), which is blues-y but not a blues, and contains some wonderful reciprocity between the two reedists. “Ballad,” the only song here not composed by Kimmel, is instead contributed by Riordan. It’s ironically the one track that doesn’t keep time, allowing the performers to go exploring out even further away from structured modes. At the same time, the Quartet never abandons the fundamental building blocks of the jazz tradition, and a song like “Charm Offensive” can swing with the best of ’em.

It’s noteworthy that Jeff Kimmel calls himself not only a bass clarinet player and composer, but also an improviser. It means he understands that improvising is a way of creating music apart from merely playing it and composing it. Along with his Quartet, Kimmel brings all three sides of his artistry together in a solid first effort.

Purchase Charm Offensive here. Visit Jeff Kimmel’s website.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron