By Dave Cantor | Published July 2019
In Chicago, Sun Ra compositions rank as repertoire with chimerical improv being the lingua franca.
Ample evidence comes on the quartet recording by Nature Work, helmed by the city’s Greg Ward on alto saxophone and Jason Stein on bass clarinet. Splitting up writing duties on the tracks here, the pair invites experimentally inclined bassist Eric Revis and exploratory drummer Jim Black to round out the group, adding some New York gravitas to the proceedings.
But Nature Work just sounds like Chicago, smartly penned heads sitting alongside patches of emotionally wrought blowing. On Stein’s “Porch Time,” Revis and Black lock into a maniacal debate, churning out some of the most menacing moments of the album, as Ward blends in calming, ropey lines of improv before the tune’s composer briefly restates the tune’s melodic material.
Contrasting Stein’s writing with Ward’s finds tunes like the latter’s “Tah Dazzle,” pointing toward some divergent ideas—but only marginally. Ward seems to find wobbly phrases and lines for the pair to repeat, providing listeners easier access to the swelling improvisations that follow. While both players clearly are writing to give everyone space to explore, Stein works to get to all involved to that musical nexus more immediately.