Keefe Jackson's Project Project

Just Like This
Delmark DE 580

Making the most of the varied textures available from a 12-piece ensemble, reedist Keefe Jackson’s straight-ahead Project Project adumbrates jazz’s future, while alluding to its past. Built up from the four-square walking of bassist Anton Hatwich, and the rolls and flams of drummer Frank Rosaly, the piano-less group, consisting of yet another wave of new Chicago players, is somewhat reminiscent of Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band.

But with Marc Unternährer’s tuba prominent among the brass, plus with clarinets’ tremolo trills and coloratura glissandi heard as often as saxophone slurs and honks, Jackson’s extended compositions include an overlay of post-modern impressionism. Perhaps alluding to the band’s double-barreled name, a common trope is to twin two instruments – such as the trombones of Jeb Bishop and Nick Broste – in contrapuntal theme elaboration, then followed a transitional growl from Dave Rempis’ baritone saxophone, fluidly showcase variations from the others.

Along the way, the Fayetteville, Arkansas-native demonstrates his arranging skill as well, exposing only a few flutter-tongued runs on clarinet or subterranean growls on tenor saxophone and leaving sufficient space for the others. Considering a piece such as “Titled” mates jabs and snorts from the riffing horn section as James Falzone’s and Guillermo Gregorio’s clarinets splinter pitches, while “Which Well” highlights Rosaly’s uncharacteristic New Thing-style banging and bouncing plus a broken interlude of squeaking reeds without the ensembles ever appearing ragged, all acquit themselves admirably.

Whether showcasing contrapuntal broken octaves or slinky connective vamps, the bonded power of the group is such that it often becomes impossible to imagine contemporary first-rate jazz that isn’t performed Just Like This.

— Ken Waxman