In Chicago jazz, you can come home again. Since the music thrives on change, it’s natural for bands to come and go, and for musicians to stay in one place for a while and then move on. But there’s always an open door for you to return and pick up where you left off. Consider the example of Kyle Bruckmann. The multi-instrumentalist had a good run here between 1997 and 2003 by dint of his unusual skill set (there just aren’t that many improvising oboe/English horn players around), which enabled him to appear with jazz, chamber, and rock groups, orchestras, and diverse ad hoc improvisational situations. He first formed Wrack shortly before he left Chicago for San Francisco, where he is currently based, as an outlet for his investigations into the creative friction that occurs when classical music and jazz rub together. What’s kept the band going through a decade, three CDs (disclosure – I wrote liner notes to one of them), several line-up changes, and uncounted cross-country flights is the way it perpetuates Bruckmann’s connection with the open-minded attitude, roll-up-your-sleeves industriousness, and ego-free virtuosity of the Chicagoan musicians that have always filled Wrack’s ranks. No one swings beneath his contrapuntal constructions quite like drummer Tim Daisy and bassist Anton Hatwich, and no one can make his elaborately thorny melodies sing like violist Jen Clare Paulson and bass clarinetist Jason Stein.
Wrack is on the verge of releasing its fourth album on Singlespeed, a label operated by another former Cook County occupant, Aram Shelton. Given Bruckmann’s growth as a composer and the coming and going of personnel, each record has sounded different, and so it is with …Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire (Singlespeed, 2014). The line-up has expanded to include yet another former Chicagoan, trombonist Jeb Bishop, who appeared on the Wrack’s first, self-titled album, and Bay area-based trumpeter Darren Johnston. The larger ensemble is necessary to realize the delirious admixture of genres and references required by the inspiration for this four-part suite. Bruckmann was so charmed by the made-up songs that litter Thomas Pynchon’s novels that he wrote tunes to go with them. There’s no singing on the record, but the composed melodies invite the soloists to play with a pan-stylistic openness and gleeful lyricism unparalleled in Bruckmann’s music. Re-programmed bebop and peg-legged polka jostle with graceful passages of classical unison and fearless forays into free-form disarray. He’s never been shy about making broad leaps across the musical map, but this is the first time he’s made so many methodologies occupy the same space.
by Bill Meyer. Originally published at Chicago Music.