When: Mon., Aug. 22, 9 p.m. 2011
During his years in Chicago, bassist Jason Ajemian was best known as a jazz musician, working in groups like Dragons 1976, Triage, and Exploding Star Orchestra, but he also moved outside the genre, playing outsider folk with Josephine Foster as Born Heller or genre-averse improvised grooves with Nori Tanaka as LayAllOverIt. For the past few years his most active group has been a peculiar quintet called the Highlife, which at most keeps one foot in jazz. The lineup consists of superb improvisers—trumpeter Jacob Wick, saxophonist Peter Hanson, guitarist Owen Stewart-Robertson, and Chicago drummer Marc Riordan—and on the group's new second album, Riding the Light Into the Birds Eye (Sundmagi), they treat Ajemian's scores as sly suggestions rather than strict blueprints. He creates them using drafting software AutoCAD, and his serpentine, episodic compositions channel fragments of conventional notation through mazelike graphic elements that sometimes look like seashells or dungeons. The elaborate melody of a piece like "Bliss Is This" sounds like it could fly on Broadway, but the band doesn't play it straight, instead tangling it up in loosey-goosey, slaloming harmonies and multilinear improvised phrases that seem like willful acts of sabotage. Ajemian isn't a great singer, and often pushes his voice well past its limits, whether he's crooning or using a hectoring funk style—on "His Name on Records" he sounds a bit like Commodores-era Lionel Richie singing "Come Together." He and Riordan carve out grooves that usually owe their feel to rock or funk, but Hanson, Wick, and Stewart-Robertson never fall in line in a dumb and obvious way—they toy with the grooves or step out of them entirely, coming off like savvy, focused no-wave veterans. No matter how hard I try to parse this music, I'm left scratching my head in confusion and admiration. For this show, trumpeter Jaimie Branch will fill in for Wick and drummer Nick Jenkins will cover for Riordan.
Tonight drummer Marc Riordan and keyboardist Danny Van Duerm will join the lineup from the Heaven Gallery show, turning the band into a seven-piece. —Peter Margasak Love of Everything headlines; Summer Girlfriends, Jason Ajemian & the Highlife, and Paletazo open.