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The group made an as-yet-unreleased recording a year ago, and it’s impressive. Roebke and drummer Frank Rosaly are superb, shaping fleet grooves that give Ward plenty of leeway, whether unspooling quicksilver bebop lines of remarkable clarity on a piece like “Forgetting” or shaping fractured melodic shards in a vinegary tone as on the beautifully strangulated “Centering,” which you can listen to below. The wild card of the band is Brian Labycz, who’s modular synthesizer lines consistently crack the band’s glassy veneer—dissonant, grimy, and jagged. In an email exchange about a solo record he made last year, Roebke wrote “I am thinking of streams of material that come in an out and sometimes overlap. I always want to make my solo pieces rich and full sounding while keeping the idea of one person playing, and the thinness of that, as two ideas that compete in some, hopefully, compelling way.” He also wrote, “So for the new quartet project, I want to explore how four quite different musicians use variations on these streaming ideas. I'm proposing some different strategies for group improvisation. Maybe just so it can all go completely free again.” The recording is anything but completely free, but each musician is accorded loads of space—I can only guess what they could do if they got to play more often.
Erin McKeown, Hundreds of Lions (Righteous Babe)
Polar Bear, Peepers (Leaf)
Phil Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, Armageddon (Katalyst)
Taylor Ho Bynum, John Hébert and Gerald Cleaver, Book of Three (Rogue Art)
Anna King, Back to Soul (Shout!)