The Chicago Luzern Exchange brings together three young Chicago avant-garde jazz players—cornetist Josh Berman, tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson, drummer Frank Rosaly—and a Swiss. The Swiss, tuba player Mark Unternahrer, met the Chicago musicians through a “sister cities” exchange in 2002. He returned to the U.S. to record the group’s excellent new album Several Lights (Delmark).
The Chicago Luzern Exchange creates their music as they play, and the first track “Slips” feels like the group is getting to know each other. They soon become a unit and play with unusual coherence for a free jazz ensemble. The Chicago Luzern Exchange often sounds like a single mind improvising. The group occasionally locks into an almost funky groove, for example when the horn players bounce lines back and forth like a sax quartet on “Our Thing.” “Soon Enough” sounds like two bop musicians playing runs in separate rooms, until Unternahrer enters with his tuba and string it all together.
Most tracks on Several Lights are shorter than a pop tune. The brief songs show the group’s desire to craft a coherent improvisation, rather than string together indulgent solos and howling horns. Although Several Lights may be initially forbidding, the complicated music becomes more melodic and lucid with each listening. Let’s hope that Unternahrer gets back to Chicago soon to record another album of intelligent free jazz with the local boys.
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