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Dead Cat Bounce: Chance Episodes

img  Tobias Fischer

While the name Chance Episodes implies a more or less free-for-all improvisational approach to composition, the forth album by NYC via Boston-based sextet Dead Cat Bounce is anything but unfocused. Rather, the album’s 11 tracks, penned by composer/saxophone player Matt Steckler are almost neurotic in their attention to detail (though sometimes closer to psychotic in terms of the group’s urgent musical delivery). Comprised of six saxophones, drums, and bass, the band moves effortlessly through tight arrangements between heady funk, Mingus-y boats of group chaos, hyperactive Latin, and bebop--sometimes all within a single composition.

“Salon Sound Journal” opens as a pensive, contrapuntal weave of saxophones underpinned by thudding bass. The composition briefly (for a minute or so) moonlights as a straight-ahead swing piece before breaking down into a quasi montuno that in turn becomes a jagged funk number. The rhythm section drops out for some all-saxophone chorale writing before coalescing to grinding hip-hop beats topped with some Eric Dolphy-like saxophone squeals.

Throughout, the music has a very congregational feel rooted in the tradition of Charles Mingus. Like the music of that jazz titan, the compositions of bandleader/composer/saxophonist Matt Steckler are marked with a restless, volatile quality that never quite settles. As tight as the arrangements are, there’s a sense that at any point, the whole thing might fall apart. Most of the compositions feel like carefully orchestrated stream of conscious works that wander through moments of schizophrenia and serenity without verse-chorus-bridge formulas.

“Watkins Glen” shifts from an oddball unison sax-upright bass figure to a hard grooving jazz-rock feel colored with lush saxophone harmonies. A flute enters and pushes the whole thing slightly out of equilibrium and into tight funk hits behind a bass solo. “Living The Dream” is comic book funk packed with TNT--raunchy, sloppy, and convulsion-inducing.

Despite the instability of it’s congregational soloing and ever-restless compositional turns, Chance Episodes manages an accessible headiness, firmly rooted in groove. There are plenty of 10 to 20 second intervals (appearing every 10 to 20 seconds) that make you want to dance, though with so many tempo, color, and rhythmic jolts, any attempt to do so would leave you looking like an epileptic kid at a rave. Still, the tight start-stop rhythms, neurotic attention to compositional detail, and overall personality of the music makes you want to keep trying.

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: Dead Cat Bounce
Homepage: Cuneiform Records

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