Whenever I encounter a band with nonconformist guitarist Edward Ricart in it — whether it’s Matta Gawa, Hyrrokkin or the Edward Ricart-Nick Millevoi Quartet — something exciting is going on. Exciting, as in, it’s not really similar to anything else.
There’s one more Ricart project of note, the Edward Ricart Quartet, and their second album Chamaeleon is about to drop. Following up on last year’s Ancón, The ERQ again features Herb Robertson on trumpet, Jason Ajemian on bass and Andrew Barker on drums, all guys with sparkling out-jazz credentials from both the Chicago and NYC scenes. Ricart’s usual brand of experimental music leans toward the rock side, but the band that bears his name is his jazz band.
Chamaeleon might be even deeper into the jazz end of avant-garde, due to the presence of an additional performer, veteran British saxophone avanteer Paul Dunmall. With a third solo voice, Ricart finds himself in a greater supporting role but the overall group aesthetic gains diversity and from the leader standpoint, that gives him more tools to work with.
The confidence that Ricart has in the introduction of a new performer into a band that relies heavily on group telepathy is palpable in the two freewheeling, extended improvisations that anchor this record. “Forager” begins meekly with Dunmall and Robertson making tentatively remarks alongside each other as Parker’s percussion accents are barely making a sound. A few minutes later, the song achieves liftoff thanks to Parker getting increasingly restless and Ajemian’s bass injecting itself as an additional lead voice. Ricart hangs back using his effects pedals to fire off odd electronic colorings Chicago Underground style, and finally takes the reigns to dispatch an elusive guitar solo almost seven minutes in, with Ajemian and Parker improvising simultaneously with amazing closeness. Robertson and Dunmall join in on the fun, beginning a sweet patch of group spontaneity. After a long wind-down period, Barker goes nuts amidst a lumbering bass figure and Ricart’s eerie electronic drones, which begin to dominate the sound and bring the performance to an abrupt ending.
“Elliptic Operators,” the other twenty-minute tune, prowls much like a Tim Berne song. Dunmall even approximates a tenor version of Berne, and this song develops with more fluidity, taking about two thirds of the running time to get from a dead calm to a runaway free-for-all led by the saxophonist and more unfettered drum work by Parker.
Of the shorter pieces, “Real Orbital” is a group improv that emphasizes mood over facility, and “Excavator” is a murky mass of chaos that Robertson’s trumpet pierces right through. “Blind Source” is just long enough to let you know what a fundamentally sound soloist Dunmall is and “Beelining” is another thrashing where after some blistering runs, Ricart is throwing off some of the spectral effects he uses for Matta Gawa.
The addition of a sax player from halfway around the world and another generation comes off as if he grew up with the Quartet. Throughout constant unrestrained playing Chamaeleon has a coherency that’s uncommon for free jazz and an energy that’s undeniable.
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Chamaeleon goes on sale November 12, by New Atlantis Records.