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Kyle Bruckmann - Wrack

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Artist: Kyle Bruckmann

Album: Wrack

Label: Red Toucan

Review date: Jan. 19, 2004

How unique is the oboe in jazz and free improvisation? Pretty unique, both in terms of its distinct and idiosyncratic sonorities and in terms of the tiny number of people playing it. Chicago’s Bruckmann is one of the leading practitioners of the difficult double-reed instrument, and on this recent release from the splendid Red Toucan imprint he demonstrates his chops as both improviser and composer.

For a highly unusual instrumentation – the leader on oboe and English horn, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Tim Daisy on percussion, Kurt Johnson on bass (who is in the experimental punk band Lozenge along with Bruckmann), and Jen Clare Paulson on viola – Bruckmann has constructed a half dozen tunes (plus a brief, plucky reharmonized version of Ornette’s “Lonely Woman”) which combine two seemingly improbable approaches: the post-Vandermark Chicagoan tendency to lace together shifting rhythmic bases and free sections, and a decided New Music influence (the classically trained Bruckmann names Bartok, Stravinsky, Messiaen, and Webern as household gods of his, but some reviewers have rightly detected the presence of Feldman and Scelsi) in the granular minimalism of pieces like “Elegy for a Boiled Frog” and “Mitigating Factors.” Often as not, the band alternates dour drones with bustling grooves (such as the plangent melody strung across jumpy 7/4 in “Boiled Frog”).

Bruckmann’s pieces are patient constructs that morph slowly and ask the improvisers (who he’s very generous about featuring – just dig the long Bishop/Paulson duet in “Extenuating Circumstances”) to build along with the composition rather than blow over or through it. And if the overall mood is – as the opening track title suggests – “Rather Dour,” there are more than enough tart improvisational moments and plenty of saucy drumming from Daisy to keep the session vigorous. The cranky, neo-industrial improvisations on “Gearshifts & Parentheticals” testify to that.

One of the finest examples of Wrack’s ability to combine turned-up flame with clear-headed attention to texture and space is the brash “Sins of Omission.” Bishop tussles with Johnson and Daisy, with energy to spare. But you’ve got to feel that this band’s heart is in the long textural studies like “Mitigating Factors,” where the players get to test their extended techniques out even as they work from space and (relative) silence. Daisy, in particular, is a wonder at tuned percussion on this track.

Wrack should be taken seriously, not only as a thoroughly enjoyable album in its own right, but as a document of exciting new directions from some of Chicago’s best players. Highly recommended.

By Jason Bivins

Other Reviews of Kyle Bruckmann

Gasps and Fissures

Technological Music, Vol. I

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View all articles by Jason Bivins

Find out more about Red Toucan

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