Bison Bison illustrate the deep, endless vitality of Chicago’s jazz and improvised-music community | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Bison Bison illustrate the deep, endless vitality of Chicago’s jazz and improvised-music community

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Sometimes I feel bad about my inability to keep up with the new talent that keeps pumping into Chicago’s jazz and improvised music scenes; there’s a steady influx of young players forming new groups or joining others that have already begun establishing themselves. There are players from both of these categories in Bison Bison, a quartet that have played a handful of gigs over the last year. They’d been totally off my imperfect radar until recently, when the group’s talented drummer, Matt Carroll—a multistylistic force who plays in the imaginative piano trio Rooms as well as in the rising pop-rock band Ohmme—shared a copy of their eponymous debut album on Flood Music with me. The group also includes bassist Mike Harmon, an agile player who works in mainstream jazz circles as well as holding down the low end for folk-pop singer V.V. Lightbody. I’ve seen the names of guitarist Ishmael Ali and tenor saxophonist Willis McKenna around in recent years, but their contributions to the quartet’s sleek postbop is my first encounter with their playing. Those two musicians composed the moody, elastic themes on the record, for which they openly admit drawing inspiration from the generously expansive work of drummer Paul Motian. They possess an impressive rapport, articulating the seductive melodies with a loose interaction that indicates their deep connection, and playing their arrangements with an attractive slackness that allows them plenty of leeway in both their improvisational reach and quicksilver responsiveness. While most of the album’s seven pieces embrace a swing feel, the group doesn’t shy away from a more aggressive stance on tracks such as the rock-fueled “Ampersand,” where McKenna unfurls beautifully tangled lines and Ali injects off-kilter funk stabs. The rhythm section bends and pushes with an assured, sophisticated touch; though they elevate the music, they never overshadow each other.   v

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