Matthew Lux’s Communication Arts Quartet – Contra/Fact (2018)

Share this:

Matthew Lux isn’t a household name but this electric bassist and producer has spread himself around the edgier elements of Chicago’s music scene over the last couple of decades. His associations with groups like Isotope 217, Iron & Wine and all those various Rob Mazurek projects — most notably, the Exploding Star Orchestra — has kept Lux at or near the center of the Windy City’s avant-garde and experimental happenings. Imagine what this guy can do when he’s the one holding the reigns.

Heading up a quartet dubbed Communication Arts Quartet, Lux has finally revealed his own music vision with the recent release of Contra/Fact. With Lux handling bass, synth, electric guitar, chirimia and percussion, the Quartet is rounded out by Ben Lamar Gay (cornet, electronics, melodica, percussion), Mikel Patrick Avery (drums, percussion, acoustic guitar, mellotron) & Jayve Montgomery (tenor sax, carinumpet, flute, samples, percussion). The wide array of instruments handled by each of them allows Lux greater latitude in arrangements, and he also had the group playing loose, relaxed and bathed in sweet analog varnish.

Lux doesn’t necessarily copy the style of the Afro-Cuban jazz or Chicago electric blues that both sprung up in the late 40s/early 50s but he’s undeniably evoking its characters and shapes, leapfrogging it into the 21st century with discreet deployments of electro-noises/samples and sometimes James Brown backbeats. This approach is most explicit on the all-hands-on-deck percussion festival “Camisa Sete” (video above) built around Avery’s James Brown backbeat and nothing more for the first ninety seconds until a rhythm guitar supplements the groove and the Gay/Montgomery cornet/sax combination finally adds some harmony. But honestly, as good as the groove was going, there was no rush to get there. Similarly, “Israels'” uses an Afro-Cuban pulse as a foundation for some avant occurrences, like Montgomery’s Middle Eastern reed aside and a chant in a foreign language. Gay’s own feature pulls the proceedings back onto a firmer jazz footing as Montgomery follows him around on flute.

Sometimes, the rhythms take a back seat to the angular cogitation over barren sonic terrain. Lux forges a melancholy folk line to set the stage for “Ninna Nanna.” A tenor sax and muted cornet fills out the sketch with blue tones. And then, almost imperceptibly, it goes from sad to creepy (with help from electronic distortion). “Mercury Lights” goes further into the abstract, produced almost entirely through the wonders of electronic noisemakers and samples.

The cornet/percussion piece “Singlet” serves as a prelude to “Paw Paw,” the most Mazurek-like track on here. Combining distortion and a morbid organ with a nocturnal groove and Montgomery’s Albert Ayler-isms, it’s that same collision of old and bleeding edge jazz that Mazurek had long mastered and apparently, so has Lux. Programmed, skewed hip-hop beats and a panoply of samples dominate “C.G.L.W.” but Gay’s airy muted cornet and Montgomery’s menacing bass clarinet throw off Bitches Brew echoes.

“Gris/Bleu” is the kind of archaic, languorous straight blues that one could here bellowing out into the streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Matthew Lux appears to signal with this short coda that everything in his forward-looking conception of music is deeply rooted in what came about generations before. Contra/Fact as a whole straddles tradition and cutting edge and make it strangely alluring, a tradition in itself of Chicago’s leading progressives since the founding of the AACM there in the mid 60s. Lux’s debut contains a good deal of delightful surprises but given his credentials, such surprises are to be expected.

Note: Contra/Fact as presented in this space is new, but truthfully, this is a second version of an album that has been available on Bandcamp and as a cassette since fall, 2017. This time he brought in multi-instrumentalist and Wilco alum Leroy Bach to help re-edit the album, changing up the track order and the transitions in the process. Astral Spirits is making this version available via vinyl and digital.

Share this: