The improvising trio of Jim Baker, Keefe Jackson, and Julian Kirshner specializes in surprise | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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The improvising trio of Jim Baker, Keefe Jackson, and Julian Kirshner specializes in surprise

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Chicago’s improvisational music community has launched plenty of transformational figures over the decades. But while iconic individuals such as Sun Ra, Roscoe Mitchell, and Henry Threadgill have all changed the way people around the world approach music, a thriving scene also needs players who keep the fires burning every week in local clubs. Keefe Jackson (tenor and sopranino saxophone), Jim Baker (piano and synthesizer), and Julian Kirshner (drums) have spent most of their careers playing regularly in Chicago. While they’re from different musical generations (Baker was born in 1950, Jackson in 1979, and Kirshner in 1990), in their improvising trio no one pulls rank or dominates; even when the music sounds like it might burst from the pressure of their interactions, they’re clearly realizing a collective sound. This cassette’s two side-length performances, recorded in concert at the Hungry Brain a year apart, sound quite different from each other, but they’re similarly collaborative. On “Then,” swirling piano, surging cymbals, and squalling tenor sax flow together like converging river currents. The other side, “And Again,” is more episodic, with passages of muscular tumult giving way to muted exchanges rendered alien by the eldritch pitches of Jackson’s sopranino and the outer-space sounds of Baker’s old ARP synthesizer. Heard together, these performances reveal the potential for surprise that’s brought these three musicians and their audiences together night after night.   v

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