The Chicago Project, the latest album from Chi-town born saxophonist Matana Roberts, tries to get through as many different homages as possible. From the opening track “Exchange”—a barrage of codas that never seem to adhere to a definitive melodic thread—it’s obvious that Roberts is trying to split the difference between such freeform touchstones as A Love Supreme and Bitches Brew without batting an eye. Yet in the jazz market today, you can’t have your cake and eat it too (unless, of course, you’re Matthew Shipp), and Roberts’ ambitions wind up getting the best of her. Though tracks like “Nomra” do a great job of eliciting Kind of Blue-styled nostalgia, it’s the frenzied Zorn-like breaks during “Love Call” that make for a somewhat erratic listening experience. It’s almost as if Roberts is trying to get 50 years of jazz history all into one disc, and though her ambition is admirable, it’s around the time that you get to “Birdhouse 3”—the third avant-sax duet on the disc—when you’d just rather put on the original classics instead.
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