Landon Knoblock's Cacaw | Jerry's | Jazz | Chicago Reader

Landon Knoblock's Cacaw Soundboard Recommended Image

When: Tue., Nov. 19, 9:30 p.m. 2013

I’d never heard of keyboardist Landon Knoblock until I got a copy of Stellar Power (Skirl), a stylistically slippery album from his trio Cacaw. The first track, “Double Dagger,” opens with drummer Jeff Davis laying down a huge backbeat and Knoblock playing a smeary synthetic bass line that sounds purloined from an old Human League record—it doesn’t sound like jazz at all, until Knoblock adds soulful electric-piano arpeggios and reedist Oscar Noriega (Endangered Blood, Tim Berne’s Snakeoil) slaloms his alto saxophone into the groove, changing the music’s complexion utterly even though the big beat and synth bass remain. Knoblock is a big science-fiction fan—he’s got a song called “Neutron Star, Eating Its Binary Neighbor”—but Cacaw’s modern strain of fusion doesn’t sound particularly spacey. He injects his lovely postbop melodies with the granite toughness of hard rock and borderline cheesy retro synths, but those loaded signifiers don’t detract from the group’s jazzlike elasticity or shape-shifting improvisations, both of which are most notable in the interplay between Noriega and Knoblock. “Tabletop Glances Before Dawn” begins as a tender ballad, with Knoblock’s vibrato synth whooshes lapping at Noriega’s lyrical opening statement, but soon Davis builds tension and volume with an almost martial beat, distended by a bit of fatback funkiness, and Knoblock adds mathy electric piano that pushes the song into knotty, complicated territory a la Tim Berne. Berne’s work is a key landmark for this music, with its lines and rhythms that intersect and tangle without ever losing the thread. Cacaw can sound pretty obnoxious on the surface (and I suspect it’s deliberate), but it’s absolutely worth fighting through. —Peter Margasak Empty Step opens.

Price: $5 suggested donation

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