Other Doors, by Klang, and Aerial Age, by Vox Arcana

August 23, 2011

In a formidable jazz town like Chicago, musicians who populate the club scene one night grace the world's concert stages the next. Two new projects feature three of the city's best: drummer/percussionist Tim Daisy, clarinetist James Falzone and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm.

Daisy and Falzone trade places as bandleaders with gratifying, unexpected results. Other Doors, a tribute to Benny Goodman, began when the Jazz Institute of Chicago approached Falzone about a project to mark the Chicago-native bandleader's 100-year anniversary. Rising to the occasion, Klang launches Goodman's music—and Goodman-inspired originals—on improvised excursions that ricochet from familiar themes to ferocious flights and back.

On Goodman's "Breakfast Feud," Falzone pilots his clarinet like a joyful stunt flyer—but this playfulness is grounded by crisp mastery of the instrument and material. The title track, composed by Falzone, takes its name from Goodman's advocacy for African-American musicians. When Goodman's band toured the nation's dance halls, he defied convention by refusing to make his black players use different entrances from their white colleagues. The song begins with Falzone unfolding sepia tendrils, which wrap around Lonberg-Holm's droning cello and Daisy's muted, majestic pounding. Together they produce a gripping shadow portrait of racism outclassed by brave defiance.

On Aerial Age, Daisy takes the helm as sole composer. "The Number 7" trots out seven-note runs in which clarinet, cello and marimba often lock time in military precision, peel apart into quizzical squeaks and hops and then fuse again behind the gallop of brushed cymbal and snare. On "The Silver Fence," the players sound as though they're making a jailbreak away from convention, yet they stay tethered together so as not to let it all fall apart. A surprising segue features brushed snare, cymbal and loping, plucked strings—reminiscent of Charles Mingus—before returning to the opening "jailbreak" theme.

Vox Arcana's music sometimes recalls radio static; it may not work for listeners who like their melody and meter straight. But those brave enough to take the ride will be pushed and pulled on a Tilt-A-Whirl of tempo and timbre. These three players mix the discipline of seasoned pros with acrobatic daring.