Devin Hoff Bastet, James Falzone's Renga Ensemble | Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater | Jazz | Chicago Reader
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Devin Hoff Bastet, James Falzone's Renga Ensemble 

When: Thu., April 11, 6:30 p.m. 2013
Bassist and onetime Chicagoan Devin Hoff returns for a visit with his new ensemble Bastet, which includes two other out-of-town musicians (drummer Darrell Greene and saxophonist Howard Wiley, both fixtures of the Bay Area jazz scene) and Chicago alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarrella. On the group’s as-yet-unreleased debut, Hoff plays a dominant role in shaping the sound with his lines on acoustic bass guitar, but the saxophonists have a terrific rapport that’s highlighted by the somber-sprightly contrast between their tones. A few tracks include chants that borrow from Egyptian pagan cosmology—though “Bastet” works as a pun on jazz-band nomenclature such as “quartet” and “quintet,” it’s also the name of a feline goddess of ancient Egypt—but those vocals aren’t nearly as powerful as Hoff’s complex, tightly coiled postbop tunes, which the group executes so nimbly they sound simple.

Superb Chicago clarinetist and composer James Falzone has adapted jazz-derived improvisation to Middle Eastern traditions, played Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, and paid homage to Benny Goodman, so I’m almost used to seeing him launch rigorous, conceptually interesting projects. Still, his new six-member clarinet choir, Renga, is especially exciting: Falzone, Ken Vandermark, Jason Stein, and Keefe Jackson are joined by visiting musicians Ben Goldberg and Ned Rothenberg, two of the most original clarinetists of the past two decades. The group takes its name from a centuries-old form of collaborative Japanese poetry, where two or three poets blend their words into a single meditative work. “This struck me as an apt metaphor for an ensemble of improvising musicians,” Falzone explains. Three members of Renga occasionally play saxophones, but clarinets dominate, ranging from the hefty contrabass to the sopranino E-flat horn; in this context, timbral exploration will be just as important to the group’s music as Falzone’s longtime interest in blurring the lines between improvisation and composition. —Peter Margasak The Defin Hoff Bastet headlines. Falzone and Renga also play tonight at 9 PM at Elastic; admission is an $8 suggested donation.



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