Jon Lundbom’s Big Five Chord shares a lot of members with Bryan & the Haggards and Mostly Other People Do the Killing, and thus, that wild and wooly DNA is built into the band. However, Lundbom wisely lets Jon Irabagon (alto/soprano saxes), Bryan Murray (tenor/balto! saxes), Moppa Elliott (bass), Dan Monaghan (drums) be themselves within the context of his own songs and arrangements, which are distinctive enough to give his audience reason to view his music apart from those other two bands.
Lundbom and his motley bunch have been bringing together the intensity of heavy rock with the intensity of jazz in unpredictable ways for five albums, now. It probably wasn’t planned that way, but all of those studio albums have been building up to a double-live album. Liverevil, out January 28 on Hot Cup Records, has a title that suggests both Miles Davis and Black Sabbath, and there’s more in common with them than titling an album similar to that Live Evil concert recordings both acts have put out. With dedicated jazz cats in his band plus Matt Kanelos on electric piano for some of the songs, Liverevil leans a lot closer to Davis.
The Big Five Chord has always been immediate and living right in the moment, so this two set gig at Brooklyn Fire Proof is not only logical, it might have been long overdue. On the stage, it becomes clearer what makes the group tick. Murray and Irabagon bring Ellington, Coltrane and Coleman (Ornette, that is). Lundbom brings Scofield, Coryell and Page. Elliott and Monaghan keep it all together, even when that sometimes seems to be an impossible task. Many of the tunes are drawn from Big Five Chord studio records but not all of them. As I said, unpredictability is part of the presentation.
A jazzy head led by Irabagon and Murray usually gets things started, leading us to believe these guys are going to play bop and then solos commence and the song changes character in the course of these solos, never going back to that head. The dual sax figure in “The Difference” that kicks off the first set suggests the Duke in a semi-tonal mood. Lundbom’s solo traverses jazz and rock before moving into the outer regions.
“Tick-Dog” breaks a bit from that template; it’s a solo guitar performance for 3-1/2 minutes before settling into a head with Murray and Monaghan running at 12/8 time. That’s followed by a swerving, hard-honkin’ solo by Murray on his patented balto!
Lundbom and the gang end the first set with a trio of songs adapted from Wiccan prayer songs. It’s hard to say how much he’s retrofitted these hymns to make them jazz, there always seems to be a dark undercurrent running underneath fairly straightforward melodies. The electric piano of Kanelos devises a loose pattern on “Our Sun” that slowly mutates into a solo, and Murray comes next with another standout performance. “Now Is the Time/The Maypole Dance” is boppish but doesn’t sound at all like the Charlie Parker tune. Elliott’s busy and funky bass figure keeps the song well-grounded and Irabagon plays his alto solo with the impishness that’s marked his limitless abilities, his antics including playfully blowing raspberries into his horn. A strong swing from the rhythm section bolsters Lundbom when his turn comes. That same rhythm section swings on Coltranian fashion on “First Harvest/Evening Shadows,” and alongside that Elvin Jones gait Lundbom goes off like Larry Coryell and we’re later treated to both saxes improvising simultaneously.
The second set rocks a little harder, and one of Lundbom’s best from that side of him, “On Jacation” is part of that. Looser and laid back than the original, the saxes are simul-soloing and intentionally getting in and out of sync with each other and the rest of the band. When Lundbom takes over, he becomes John Scofield in a particularly disorderly mood. Before that is a previously unrecorded number, “Bring Forth the Battalions,” which Monaghan puts into martial motion but it’s anything but military in its discipline; the discipline comes from Elliott’s Moppa setting the broad parameters for both Lundbom and Murray, and they leave behind guttural and fervent expressions, respectively.
Great solos usually involve great pacing, and the one Lundbom drops on “These Changes” is one of those, building to the apex at the last note of the entire song. “North Star” is soulful tune by The Rural Alberta Advantage that features pretty alto sax by Irabagon; with a nudge by Monaghan, it morphs into the visceral. “Have You Ever Seen A Woman As Big As Martha?” from the first Big Five Chord album sports a Frank Zappa title and the music itself is cleverly zany, too. Like Zappa’s “America Drinks And Goes Home,” its opening theme has an almost satirical quality but the proceedings soon move into serious sax leads by Irabagon and then Murray.
By picking out the highlights of the prior albums, tossing in a couple of curveballs and playing in its natural, live environs, Jon Lundbom and Big five Chord’s latest is the earliest release anyone should acquire if they get curious about this group’s music. And with all that firepower and creativity gushing forth from Liverevil, there is plenty to be curious about.
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