MR. CHAIR – Nebulebula
The CD/triple vinyl Release event for Nebulebula is Thursday, September 5th at the Majestic Theater. According to the calendar listing featured guests will include: Charles Lazarus, trumpet; Dequadray James White, voice; Terra Allen, Latanya Maymon, Toya Robinson, and Tamera Stanley of the Mount Zion Gospel Choir, vocals; Jon Hoel, sax; Paran Amirinazari and Beth Larson, violins; Sharon Tenhundfeld, viola; Mark Bridges, cello; Buzz Kemper, voice; Marie Salles, voice; Dr. Stephen Meyers, geoscientist.
Digital copies can be purchased here starting September 5. It will also stream on various platforms.
Physical copies will be available starting Sept 7 at the Mr. Chair website.
At just under two hours, this extraordinary debut recording from Mr. Chair, makes quite a statement. These four classically trained musicians are also well-versed in jazz. Underlying that are rock influences. Collaboration is what makes the machine that is Mr. Chair hum, however; the recording (a double-CD/triple-vinyl offering) features some thirteen additional contributors. The project includes an elaboration on two performance lectures which took place in geoscientist Dr. Stephen Meyers’ classroom on the UW-Madison campus, featuring live performance, exhilarating videos, and with new music from Mr. Chair commissioned by Myers (via the tadada Scientific Lab) , a big fan of the group. Keyboardist Jason Kutz was giving Myers’ son Teal lessons in the family home. Something struck a chord with Myers when he heard Mr. Chair perform and he asked the group to write music that meditated on the origins of the universe. The resulting Kutz composition is the opening title track, a galloping groove in 5/8… mostly.
There’s the progressive use of odd and changing meters, the chordal motifs and improvisation of jazz and the structure of modern classical music in everything they do. Toss some acid onto that jazz. Especially with the electronic treatments applied to Mark Hetzler’s trombone. Audio for the Arts’ Buzz Kemper is practically the fifth member here and dreaming up some of these trombone soundscapes with Hetzler must be some fun – like timing the delay and its decay to fit over an odd time signature. Kemper even appears on “Blue,” another Kutz composition. Here they go absolutely bonkers, in a totally cool way. After a soulful, trip-hop-y, Steely Dan-ish backdrop with a funky bass, mellow, Rhodes-like piano and a spoken-word rumination on the color/word “blue,” things go all Grateful Dead/Pink Floyd-y before Ben Ferris’s bass introduces a Tool-inspired bass line and then all hell breaks loose with Hetzler guitar-jamming on his trombone while the rest of the quartet rocks ferociously. It all comes to a sudden halt, getting to the final spoken-word stanza. You have to admire the way each of their musical influences and experiences come together so flawlessly. It’s a beautiful thing to hear. Somewhere Frank Zappa is applauding.
Ferris’s bass work is breathtakingly nimble; he has a wonderful smoothness to his playing. He contributes one composition, “Correction,” which features saxophonist Jon Hoel playing the beautiful melody in harmony with Hetzler’s trombone. Kutz plays an electric piano solo that pushes right up against the saturation point; Hetzler does a mean soprano sax solo on his trombone before Hoel gets his chance. Ferris takes over with a heavily affected, menacing bass solo. Mike Koszewski’s drumming is commendable – the cymbal work is brilliant on this one. Together he and Ferris make a tight yet fluid rhythm section that is most impressive.
Twelve of the fourteen tracks are originals. “Waves” was written by flugelhornist Charles Lazarus and the two brass instruments again blend together nicely. Dynamics are emphasized as the tune moves between melodic gentleness to near cacophony, the tune fading out after nearly nine minutes. Chick Corea meets Miles Davis. The other non-original is a selection from Erik Satie, “Gnossienne No. 1.” Marie Salles recites phrase spoken in French, then English while the famous melody intoxicates.
The standouts are simply too numerous to elaborate on each. Hetzler’s “Infinity” closes the first disc with class, An eleven-minute opus with truly inventive drumming. It flows effortlessly between treated trombone, relatively untreated trombone, piano excursions, shifts in rhythm and arsenal. That’s just the first half. The interplay between Kutz and Hetzler dazzles. Suddenly, Hetzler’s trombone is a wailing elephant complete with whammy-bar simulation that suddenly bursts into sunlight. A massive crescendo and nearly a full minute of syncopated phrases bring the excursion to a close.
Also on the first disc, two more Hetzler compositions: “Burner Phone,” taps out a morse code rhythm, the tension palpable (a burner phone creates a temporary or unidentifiable phone number that can’t be easily traced). A furious build ensues, a display of rhythmic mastery, Kutz goes Keith Emerson on the piano. The hymn-like “Purity” is something different altogether. Dequdray James White’s lyrics explore the struggle of not just the black experience but the human one. Members of the renowned Mt. Zion Baptist Choir ring in the refrains. Ferris turns in an emotional acoustic bass solo and then there’s a stunning vocal coda. Glorious. Another long-form Kutz composition, the complex “Onyzx Quartet,” features lovely bowed bass and trombone duet sections interspersed with syncopated workouts, the use of space and dynamics are remarkable. At about eight minutes Kutz positively lifts off on the piano.
Disc two opens with a masterstroke in “Falling.” Nine minutes of vintage Mr. Chair. If there is a signature track, this may be it. “Mile of Ledges” uses a string section creating an orchestra of syncopated bliss. Difficult to discern if that’s a cello wailing away like Robert Fripp through ten chained distortion units but it’s superb. Koszewski shines here, given a short solo section. Waves of sound and deep bass swells open the album closer, “Freed.” This gives way to a folky section, making this the most accessible track. In typical Mr. Chair fashion, the mood then shifts considerably, Hetzler’s trombone leaving all gravitation pull, the tone reminiscent of Pat Metheney’s synthed-out guitar trumpet tones. The folk song returns letting the listener off gently.
The avantagarde and art jazz scene in Madison has been flourishing over the last few years and Mr. Chair prove just how vital and vibrant it is. This is a world-class group, not just deserving of local accolades but those on a much higher plane. Their brand of fusion reaches across genres like an octopus. Here’s hoping they get the recognition they deserve for this rich tapestry of monumental, boundary-pushing art. It’s so exciting to know this music is being made in Madison.