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Just Like This by Keefe Jackson's Project Project

Multi-reed artist, composer, and Arkansas native Keefe Jackson is one of the leading lights of the ever-burgeoning, always fertile Chicago improvised music scene. Also a member of Fast Citizens, the Chicago-Luzerne Exchange (both documented on the great Delmark Records label), and the 774th Street Quartet, Jackson formed 'Project Project' - a 'little big band' of sorts - in 2001. This piano-less 12-piece band is comprised of five brass, five reeds, drums and bass - almost like Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band of the early 60s. Among its rank-and-file members are pretty much all of Jackson's bandmates in Fast Citizens and the Chicago-Luzerne Exchange, plus established members of the Chicago avant-jazz scene such as multi-reed men Guillermo Gregorio and Dave Rempis, and trombonist Jeb Bishop. Rempis and Bishop have logged significant time in various bands led by Ken Vandermark - and if you are as enthralled with their past performances as I am, you will not want to miss Just Like This. Add to that the playing of Jackson, Josh Berman, Frank Rosaly, and their contemporaries, who all display chops and creativity well beyond their years (they seem to be in their early-to-mid-20s), combined with the risk-taking tendencies you'd expect from the younger set.

While the tight, focused, near-telepathic interplay throughout Just Like This is at least partly due to familiarity and experience, Jackson's compositional modus operandi also includes tailor-made solo spaces and lead passages written specifically for certain members of the band. Duke Ellington used to do this, and it's a strategy that pays off handsomely in the post-Ayler jazz paradigm as well. Jackson's poly-stylistic compositional approach has room for hard-charging free-bop, harmonically vague Gil Evans-inspired atmospherics, monumental Bob Graettinger-like themes, squalling avant-jazz soliloquies, and post-everything non-idiomatic free improvisation. Jackson is especially fond of unlikely juxtapositions, a gambit he turns to repeatedly throughout this excellent CD. The opening track, 'Dragon Fly' is a case in point - this piece starts off with a very abstract improv duet between the two trombonists, Jeb Bishop and Nick Broste. Out of nowhere, the ensemble jumps in with a gritty, swaggering, crime-jazz theme which gives way to a double-time passage featuring a twittering, nervous solo by flügelhornist Jaimie Branch over ultra-cool walking bass and drums. After a return to the theme, bass clarinetist Jason Stein (a real find!) and cornetist Josh Berman solo eloquently over the same infectious groove.

This motif of alternating tonal ensemble themes and abstract solo / duo improvisation is used throughout Just Like This, though at the climax of 'The Grass Is Greener', the two worlds collide and Bishop chips in a wonderful solo over Jackson's anthemic ensemble chart. The opening ensemble section of 'Titled' is lush, somewhat mysterious-sounding, and seems to evoke the spirit of Gil Evans or John Carisi. The ensuing solo, duo, and trio improvisations go further and further out until the reeds and brass bleed back in, playing long pianissimo held notes behind Frank Rosaly's thoughtful tom-tom-centric drum solo. My favorite piece is the hard-driving, Mingus-like title track. It starts off with a lengthy multi-sectioned set of themes that eventually gives way to another ultra-swinging groove and a generously proportioned, wonderfully eloquent solo by Jackson, followed in similar manner by Branch and Falzone. Rosaly's 'Wind Up Toy' is also a groove-driven piece, replete with off-the-wall harmonies, seamless tempo modulations, super-sharp ensemble work, and more great solos by Jackson, Falzone and Berman.

The rest of Just Like This is equally distinctive, inspired, and interesting, especially the incendiary duet between drummer Rosaly and Dave Rempis (playing baritone sax) on 'Which Well'.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Keefe Jackson's Project Project
  • CD Title: Just Like This
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: Delmark Records
  • Tracks: Dragon Fly, The Grass Is Greener, Titled, Just Like This, Which Well, Wind-Up Toy
  • Musicians: Josh Berman (cornet), Jaimie Branch (trumpet & flügelhorn), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Nick Broste (trombone), Marc Unternährer (tuba), James Falzone (clarinet), Guillermo Gregorio (alto saxophone & clarinet), Dave Rempis (alto & baritone saxophones), Jason Stein (bass clarinet), Keefe Jackson (tenor saxophone & bass clarinet), Anton Hatwich (bass), Frank Rosaly (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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