Brad Cheeseman – Figurants (2016, EP)

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It’s a four-track EP, but with ambition.

Toronto bassist and composer Brad Cheeseman made an impression on us and others with a strong debut from 2015, blurring the differences between modern jazz and fusion jazz with a collection of original songs that leverages traditional jazz values with a fresh, contemporary presentation. And now, on the heels of that great effort comes a new one that expands a little beyond ideas broached in Brad Cheeseman Group.

Figurants is a four-song cycle based on David Foster Wallace’s epic novel Infinite Jest. That doesn’t mean there are lyrics to explain the story, but the songs mimic the novel’s subtle complexities in music, something that comes naturally to Cheeseman.

From his BC Group, Lorenzo Castelli (drums) and Jeff LaRochelle (tenor sax & bass clarinet) are on hand, as well as Kevin Stolz on piano, Aiden Sibley on trombone and Collen Allen on alto or soprano sax.

Once again, Cheeseman’s highly refined and contemporary compositions tend to make any distinction between jazz and fusion a moot point, and his electric bass playing brings out the complexity of these songs. But now we get to hear them rendered with not just one but two, sometimes three horns instead of just a single sax, and accordingly with that, these songs reveal even more depth and maturity than what we heard on last year’s long player.

“Year of Glad” is held together tightly by Cheeseman’s taut bass lines through a sophisticated progression, and LaRochelle and Stolz harmonize nicely together. A dual sax line of alto and tenor lead adventurous lead lines for “The American Century As Seen Through A Brick,” and “The Wraith Himself” lighter but no less nuanced; the bass clarinet (LaRochelle) and trombone (Sibley) offers up a different texture. Lastly, “Scaling Mt. Dilaidid” has the full complement of horns, lending greater impact on the power chords on this episodic, apocalyptic piece.

Figurants drops on iTunes and other major outlets February 1, 2016, the 20th anniversary of the publication of Infinite Jest.

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