PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Keefe Jacksons Fast Citizens: Ready Everyday

Michael Patrick Brady

Well-grounded improvisations from an ensemble of all-star musicians looking to find balance between freedom and composure.


Keefe Jackson's Fast Citizens

Ready Everyday

Label: Delmark
US Release Date: 2006-10-14
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Out of the powerful and protean Chicago jazz scene come the Fast Citizens, a new and fresh entity comprised of some familiar faces. For almost a decade, groups like the Vandermark 5 or the variably sized Chicago Underground have been making their mark, drawing the spotlight away from New York's downtown scene and proving that the Second City is the premier locus for the latest in exciting, avant-garde experimentation. Led by saxophonist Keefe Jackson, the Fast Citizens are simply another manifestation of this energy, a meeting of five highly skilled and individualistic players who channel their hard work into a cogent and coherent whole.

Though the music on Ready Everyday is ostensibly "free," listeners expecting an unrestrained ejaculation of pure sound will be quite perplexed. The Fast Citizens never approach the dizzying, frenetic surges stereotypical of the genre, nor do they ever really attempt to. Ready Everyday does bear the hallmarks of free jazz, with atypical meters and an obviously spontaneous, collaborative exchange between players, but the band is also very sure to point out that the pieces, at least their core elements, are composed. The Fast Citizens are straddling the fence between fully restrained and over-expressively free, yet it never feels like a hedged bet. The strength of those involved and the innovative, open compositions from Jackson, saxophonist Aram Shelton, and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, assure that the album will never rest and never hesitate.

Some of this free-minimalism can be seen in the other work of the group members. Three fifths of the Fast Citizens also comprise the Chicago Luzern Exchange, whose 2005 album Several Lights (also on Delmark) seems to set the stage for a more muted, measured approach to free jazz which dwells in the subtleties instead of overwhelming presence. Fred Lonberg-Holm, a veteran of dozens of ensembles including stints with Peter Brotzman and Anthony Braxton (not to mention his membership in the Vandemark 5), has also explored this contrast in his own quartet. Bridges Freeze Before Roads, on Longbox Recordings, is an entire album of free improvisation centered around his astute cello playing. The album dwells completely in the nooks and crannies of sound and silence, never attempting to fluff things into an impulsive din and instead forcing deep and thoughtful attention on every minute detail of what the players are doing.

Though Ready Everyday isn't quite so drastic, it retains much of the same emphasis on the spontaneous generation of ideas between players. On first listen however, it may not be apparent that this is what is truly occurring. Interspersing the free passages with tightly composed heads and recurring melodies gives the impression that the whole of the album has been strictly plotted. This isn't to say that the musicians are failing at their goals, however. In fact, it is their comfort with one another, their familiarity and collaborative spirit that allows them to read one another and create what appears to be solid, free-standing moments of seamless agreement extemporaneously. Ready Everyday is the result of a year-long residency at Chicago's Hideout club, where the Fast Citizens developed their relationship before committing it to record, and it seems to have been time well spent.

Right from the get go, on the slick opening of the title track, Jackson's saxophone lays out a melodic snare that grabs the listeners attention, drawing the interest deeper into the moderately paced piece. That initial motif crops up as bookends to the mannered improvisational sections, one of the more stark distinctions on the album. Here, the players are relatively sequestered, spotlighting everyone individually. Josh Berman's coronet makes use of the breathing room, laying out a full-bodied and tuneful section before leading into Anton Hatwich's hushed bass solo.

The most unruly the Fast Citizens allow themselves to get is on "Blackout," clattering and stuttering along a herky-jerky drum pattern from Frank Rosaly. The horns, Jackson, Berman, and Aram Shelton go to town on it with surging, bleating expulsions that strain and stretch against one another. Even here, the track is marked by a significant amount of quietness, keeping things interesting without breaking off into confusion.

Lonberg-Holm's composition "Pax Urbanum" is a familiar motif in jazz music, an evocative city-sounds exploration that, by this point, should come off as fairly tired. Taking solace in urban soundscapes isn't anything new, but the Fast Citizens acquit themselves quite nicely and mostly manage to avoid the cliché trap. Lonberg-Holm is simply too well-developed a writer and performer, and the group follows his creaky bowing into the fray, never getting lost in formless chaos but rather stitching together the disparate and disconnected allusions to street traffic and sonic jetsam into a flowing, sculpted new being. The cellists' instrumental contributions are well-employed, most notably on the persistent "Signs". He begins squalling over a tight rhythmic loop, scrubbing down the song's surface like steel wool, providing an aural palate cleanser for the subsequent attacks of his compatriots.

The Fast Citizens have thrown themselves into a challenging melting pot of music, attempting to stir the rich and intangible mixture into something with shape and form. What appears oxymoronic at first glance emerges as a captivating experiment, one that introduced new contrasts to an exciting genre and forces detractors to appreciate the almost metaphysical, impulsive structures that exist in the midst of formlessness.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.