Monday, April 26, 2010

The HighLife Wrap Up Their Tour Tonight at Skylark

Posted By on 04.26.10 at 03:32 PM

Jason Ajemian & the HighLife: Let Me Get That Digital
  • Jason Ajemian & the HighLife: Let Me Get That Digital
Bassist and former Chicagoan Jason Ajemian wraps up a spring tour with his bizarre quintet the HighLife tonight at the Skylark. A few weeks ago I blogged about the hilarious videos the band had created as a kind of tour diary, but I haven't written much about their music—in part because a gig I caught in January mostly confused the hell out of me. Now that I've had a bit more time to grapple with their recent debut album, Let Me Get That Digital (Sundmagi), I'm ready to try again.

For ages now Ajemian has been nonchalantly and gleefully throwing disparate music ideas together; I wouldn't say he abhors orthodoxy, but I bet it makes him laugh. So while the members of HighLife—trumpeter Jacob Wick, saxophonist Peter Hanson, drummer Marc Riordan, and guitarist Owen Stewart-Robertson—come from jazz backgrounds, the band has no single aesthetic. Ajemian has sung in many projects in the past—Born Heller, his duo with Josephine Foster; Who Cares How Long You Sink, his sprawling, peripatetic big band; and Lay Alloverit, his duo with Japanese drummer Nori Tanaka—but vocals have never been a focus for him the way they are on Let Me Get That Digital. The HighLife plays "songs" rather than tunes.

Though the short, slithery album opener "Daddy Bulldogs" is a hiccupping throwaway, "Can I" is a kind of slippery pop-rock song, albeit one loaded with weird harmonies, heavily improvised lines, and loosey-goosey rhythms. On the surface the horns play licks and riffs, but within them both Wick and Hanson make room for sweet-sour ad libbing and displays of all sorts of thrilling extended technique. A track like "Living Like You Own" veers from pop ballad to detective-show theme to rock jam in quick-blink flashes that never allow you decide what it's really about, and on "Big Sky (#6)" Ajemian sounds like a dyspeptic rockabilly singer.

Below you can listen to "Vibrates," one of the album's more rocking tracks:

Today's playlist:

Jaki Byard, On the Spot! (Prestige/OJC)
Orhan Gencebay, Emrin Olur (Kervan)
Xu Fengxia & Lucas Niggli, Black Lotos (Intakt)
Betty Padgett, Betty Padgett (Luv n' Haight)
Stéphane Kerecki Trio, Houria (Zig-Zag Territories)

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