Jazz drummer Gerald Cleaver explores electronica on Signs | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Jazz drummer Gerald Cleaver explores electronica on Signs 

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click to enlarge Gerald Cleaver

Gerald Cleaver

Courtesy of Pi Recordings

Drummer Gerald Cleaver has explored the edges of jazz in a career that’s already stretched over more than four decades. On last year’s What Is to Be Done (Clean Feed) he joined saxophonist Larry Ochs and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline for a set that swayed and jerked about in the space between free playing, ambience, and balladry. But his latest album, Signs (577 Records), is probably his most adventurous to date, as he abandons drums altogether and turns instead to electronic composition. The record is inspired in part by the Detroit techno and electronica Cleaver heard in his hometown during the 80s and 90s, but you can hear fusions that echo electric-era Miles Davis or third-stream music in the spaced-out ambience and Herbie Hancock-like keyboards of “Tomasz.” Parallels with brainy glitchtronica artists such as Squarepusher and Aphex Twin emerge as Cleaver turns wind-chime sounds into ear-piercing spikes on “Blown” or layers pristine blips over squeaky door-opening sounds and spliced funk to create the lurching beats of “Jackie’s Smiles.” Cleaver has an idiosyncratic sense of structure and fun, and while Signs isn’t jazz, it’s filled with an improviser’s joy at discovering new sounds and new possibilities.   v

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