The three-year-old Chicago quartet Klang – clarinetist/composer James Falzone, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, basist Jason Roebke and drummer Tim Daisy – has waxed its first studio disc in Tea Music. While it has some of the hip lightness associated with many genre-busting acts hailing from that city, coolness of approach is tempered by deep compositional concerns. The album’s fragmented nature lends it an ironic but intriguing unity that only becomes apparent after a few spins.
On the surface, these brief compositions appear to be sketches, pithy incompletions hurled into the void. While the title track seems more purposeful and solidly constructed than others, sporting a gorgeously deliberate Haden-esque bass solo, it too seems somehow fragmentary, the brief melody and faltering tempo adding to the illusion. Adasiewicz’s vibraphone gestures bring a sort of false finality to each phrase, like the deceptive cadences in a Haydn quartet or Beethoven symphony. Equally surprising is the puckish, swinging “G.F.O.P.,” which, despite cool brushes, heats to near scorching, only to have its plug pulled mid-gesture after a little over three minutes.
It’s only after digging into the appropriately named “Fickle” that the game becomes apparent. The melody chases its tail for a while at a fairly rapid tempo then switches gears into a loping swing while Adasiewicz’s sauntering solo punctuates the groove. Equally suddenly, all disappears, the ensuing silence broken by a return of the opening material before all sense of tempo dissolves. The “free” playing that follows speaks to these musicians’ versatility; they hang around the established mode while breaking all rhythmic boundaries. Little bits of the melody emerge and fade with the precision of great improvisation until, yet again, the opening material returns, showing that notions of traditional form have been there all along.
There are many similar instances of dialogue, juxtaposition and interruption throughout the album, far too many to detail here. They form a major component of the disc’s aesthetic, but composition is only one element at play. The musicianship itself is first-rate, the group able to stop on a dime throughout. The players’ performances blend to give the band a unique voice, one rooted in swing and cool but cognizant of all events transpiring since.