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Last night's double-bill presentation of local jazz artists at The Loft was by far the most successful program I've seen at that venue... ever.

The combination of the free-funk-jazz chaos of the Jeff Kaiser Quintet paired well with the classic modernism of Peter Sprague's Quartet, showcasing the diverse arc of possibilities inherent in improvised music.

Jeff Kaiser Quintet

Kaiser began the first tune by eliciting percolating bongo sounds made by tapping the valves of his trumpet turned-synth-controller via laptop and specialized software. His group soon entered the fray: Jared Mattson chopping weird, atonal chords like James "Blood" Ulmer, David Borgo braying warbled discourse from his tenor saxophone, while Tyler Eaton laid down strange electric bass lines over the non-metric pulsations of Jonathan Mattson. Suddenly, the cacophony simmered down to a wicked 5/4 funk groove that found Borgo rippling lines from the bottom of his horn into screaming exclamations at the top. Jared took flight next with skittering, nervous jangles and violent scraping that sounded like a power tool ready to explode. Borgo and Kaiser engaged in a dual solo that seemed to push angry hornets out of each others horns--then, with a dramatic cue from Kaiser, a brief written passage brought it all home.

The second piece featured long, drawn and elliptical tones in a kind of warped circus melody that led Kaiser into some computer generated fuzz-tone trumpet caterwauling, while Jared Mattson kneeled in front of his effects pedals, conjuring electronic mayhem. Jonathan Mattson took advantage when the squall subsided to tell a colorful story on his drumkit. Kaiser spit bits and pieces of some very Milesian spurts and blats, while J.M. built a groove from the ground up: kick drum bombs, hi-hat hissing like an automatic lawn sprinkler and constant rim-shot chatter. Kaiser leaned into the microphone and began a series of computer manipulated vocalizations that sounded like Lucifer having a seizure. Borgo responded with long, twisted and grainy lines on the soprano saxophone.

Kaiser always takes the road less traveled. Even though this music has certain precedents, like the music of British prog-rock icons King Crimson, and the avant-jazz-rock of Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society, as well as the groundbreaking Miles Davis 70s ensembles, it was distilled down to an entirely original and fresh perspective.

Not everyone in the audience loved it, which is a sure sign of success in my book.


Peter Sprague Quartet

Only a supremely strong and super-musical ensemble could follow something like that and not be overwhelmed. Fortunately, Sprague's group was totally up to the challenge. Playing a new arrangement for quartet of his latest string group composition, "Dr. Einstein's Spin," Sprague unwrapped the complex theme of "Molecules," with his intricate finger choreography. Brother Trip Sprague outlined the melody on his gorgeously reverberant flute while the guitarist supported with deftly executed voice leading. Gunnar Biggs was solid as ever in support, but his position in the mix was boomy and undefined. Duncan Moore is a master at sustaining grooves and starting trouble in order to lead each soloist into more expressive territory--something he did again and again last night.

Biggs began "Rainbows," with a pensive intro, before Moore's sensitive brushwork and Sprague's gently plucked chords led Tripp Sprague into a melody so deep it had me gasping for air. The guitar solo featured long strands of arpeggios interwoven with luscious passages of chord-melody, and Tripp's solo spanned from warm Dexter Gordon type ballad massaging to brief spurts of altissimo agitation drawn down to a whisper quiet conclusion.

The final movement of the suite, "The Expanse," began with Biggs' ominous bowed bass and soon jumped into a wild display of Mahavishnu John McLaughlin inspired unison riffing, drawing out a funk-time drum solo from Moore, and a multi-note arco solo from the bassist.

Two new compositions followed, "Peter's Chopin," inspired by the classical composer, but seemingly just as influenced by the great Brazilian, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and the free-boppish "Wall St.", an archetypal Sprague piece with swinging unisons and wicked counterpoint, all riding on the expert groove machine of Moore and Biggs.

Photos by Bonnie Wright

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