James Falzone’s Renga Ensemble | Constellation | Jazz | Chicago Reader
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James Falzone’s Renga Ensemble 

When: Fri., Feb. 27, 9:30 p.m. 2015
Price: $10
When I wrote about Renga a couple of years ago I focused on the potential of this all-reeds sextet, which brings together a crew of excellent improvisers under the direction of one of Chicago’s most thoughtful bandleaders, clarinetist James Falzone. The band includes Chicagoans Keefe Jackson, Ken Vandermark, and Jason Stein as well as two sublime coastal players, San Francisco’s Ben Goldberg and New York’s Ned Rothenberg. And to be sure, the group’s recent debut album, The Room Is (Allos Documents), features plenty of superb, focused improvisation, solo and group. But for me the real accomplishment is Falzone’s writing. The clarinetist embraces Duke Ellington’s famous practice of composing specifically for the individual members of his ensemble—each with his own distinctive tone and vocabulary—while at the same time writing pieces whose rich structure, harmony, and melodic counterpoint encourage freedom. Falzone named the group after a traditional form of Japanese poetry in which several writers blend their lines into a single austere and meditative work, and that concept applies to how these six players combine in both the leader’s deft arrangements and the group’s improvised interplay. The album has six numbered renga (“The First Renga,” “The Second Renga,” etc) featuring a different soloist and five largely through-composed works named after fragments of a haiku by American poet Abita Virgil; together, they create a seamless tapestry of astringent timbre, mournful melody, and elegant shapes. Falzone has explored diverse styles over the last decade, but this project ties them together with fluidity and poise while still balancing on a razor’s edge. Local mainstay Dave Rempis will sub for Goldberg tonight. —Peter Margasak

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