Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth ‘Epicenter’ (Clean Feed) 4/5

chris-lightcapOver ten years ago Chris Lightcap assembled together a group of musicians that developed into “Bigmouth”, a somewhat raucous, jazz-rock inflected group with avant-garde tendencies and more than a touch of the unexpected. Lightcap recollects, “I just put us all together to amuse myself and see what would happen”. What did happen was a creative powerhouse in the making. “Epicenter” is the band’s much-anticipated follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2010 release “Deluxe”. Featuring two profoundly original tenor saxophonists, Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek, keyboardist/organist/pianist Craig Taborn and drummer/percussionist Gerald Cleaver, together they join leader/bassist/guitarist/organist Lightcap to create an album filled to the brim with musical originality and personality. Chris Lightcap is a celebrated composer and bassist who has worked with a wide-ranging array of artists including Marc Ribot, Regina Carter, Tomasz Stanko and Matt Wilson. His obvious appreciation for something slightly off the wall shows here; the music on “Epicenter” draws influences from many musical corners, always edgy, often harmonious, sometimes discordant (in a beautiful way) and occasionally nonsensically brilliant. This is a big sound, the two tenors flexing their musical muscles as they create daring, yearning, tensely wound melodies that are underpinned by the propulsive, driving force of the rhythm section. Taborn features prominently throughout, his bold illuminating sounds weaving a trail of light and dark in equal measure. Lightcap was recently awarded a prestigious Chamber Music America New Jazz Works grant, which commissioned the original compositions featured on “Epicenter”. He wrote pieces inspired by various touchstones and cultural landmarks of his adopted home, New York City.

The opening track “Nine South” features Craig Taborn on Wurlitzer, and the landscape for the album is set. “White Horse”, one of the gentler tracks of the session, gradually winds up the tension before the big horns kick in on the intricate title track. The tenor sax duo are creative and edgy, never holding back. “Arthur Avenue” is more conversational and quite the New York slow jazz groove that has a lighter touch to it than most of the other tracks. Never dwelling for too long on one vibe, “Down East” is a thunderous ass-kicking beast that allows the whole band to throw off any remaining shackles. “Stillwell” is a slow burner with its off-kilter, infectious groove. It builds to a horn driven crescendo, taking in some inventive soloing along the way. There is a warm, comforting, breathy feel to “Stone by Stone” as the circular repeating horn melody develops into a tight groove that gradually lets the music around it unfold. The album closes with an incredible version of Lou Reed’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties”. The Velvet Underground classic hits the bohemian spot as it unwinds with discordant energy. Lou Reed would have loved this.

“Epicenter” was released earlier this year and has now been remastered specifically for iTunes and will be available for download from April 7th.

Mike Gates