Jason Roebke Alone

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Jason Roebke
  • Jason Roebke
Jazz bassists rarely attract the spotlight, since they traditionally function as rhythmic and harmonic anchors. Even when a bassist plays in a relatively unstructured setting, the instrument's usual register tends to keep it out of the foreground, so that it gets short shrift from the average listener. Chicago bassist Jason Roebke is probably used to this, but in groups like Mike Reed's People, Places & Things, the Jeb Bishop Trio, Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore, and the Keefe Jackson Quartet, he's crucial in enabling the compositions of the various leaders to thrive both as pieces of arranged music and vehicles for inspired improvisation.

Over the years Roebke has led his own projects—most notably Art Union Humanscape, his collaboration with his wife, dancer Ayako Kato—and he recently self-released his first solo recording, In the Interval. As if to underline the restraint he often exercises onstage, the first note of the CD's opening piece is followed by more than 30 seconds of silence. The use of space is musical for Roebke, and the piece continues to move very slowly, quietly building in volume, activity, and tension. It's an improvised outing free of grand concept—though I suppose the use of "interval" in the album's title can refer to intervals of space and time as much as to intervals between notes.

For the most part Roebke sticks to pizzicato, shaping terse, bluesy phrases in his gorgeous, woody tone and patiently allowing them to decay before moving on. Here and there he begins to build up a Mingus-worthy head of steam, but then he'll suddenly retreat. The recording includes incidental sounds, like the squeaks of Roebke's fingers sliding along the strings, and occasionally the bassist shadows his playing with hushed vocal interjections. He also accents his knotty lines with electronic squelches from one of the wonderfully lo-fi Crackleboxes designed by the late Michel Waisvisz, which he rests on the bridge of his bass.

Roebke will open Wednesday night's show at the Hideout with a solo set to celebrate the release of the disc. He'll also participate in the evening's second set as a member of the Keefe Jackson Trio.

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Back in July I reported that the long-running weekly Hotti Biscotti gig by Extraordinary Popular Delusions—the veteran improvising quartet of keyboardist Jim Baker, saxophonist Mars Williams, bassist Brian Sandstrom, and drummer Steve Hunt—was ending due to a change in ownership. Happily, the band has found a new home, and beginning on Monday, September 20, they'll start playing free weekly shows at the Beat Kitchen.

photo: Peter Gannushkin / downtownmusic.net

Today's playlist:

Espers, III (Drag City)
Maria Bethânia, Tua (Biscoito Fino)
Nate Wooley, Paul Lytton, and David Grubbs, The Seven Storey Mountain (Important)
Troyka, Troyka (Edition)
Roberto Fonseca, Akokan (Justin Time/Enja)

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