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Will Schube listens to all of the jazz.
Chicago’s jazz scene has always leaned towards eclecticism over tradition. It’s an aesthetic that slants towards deliriously experimental fusion. The only way to stand out in the face of New York City’s overarching presence is to get weird. In modern times, this tradition is carried on most seriously by the International Anthem label, the upstart, jazz focused imprint that puts as much of an emphasis on releasing boundary-pushing jazz as they do music that willfully ignores the traditional tenets of the genre. While groups like Dos Santos and artists such as Ben LaMar Gay, Makaya McCraven, and Jeff Parker have been the International Anthem staples turning the jazz world upon its head, this reinvention has proliferated outwards, resulting in this fusion becoming more of a norm than an exception within Chicago’s eclectic scene. Mindswimmer have entered this arena, moving from free jazz to Roots-inspired jam rap and spoken word stomp funk with the sort of effortlessness that gives the band a certain atmosphere of controlled chaos.
The quintet consists of Steve Dobias, Antoine Johnson, Natasha Kohli, Simeon Viltz, and Prashant Vallury. Their new LP, The Future Jazz Sounds of Mindswimmer, is jazz from a distant planet, CAN meets OutKast on acid, Slowdive covering Coltrane and remixed by King Crimson. Essentially, this group does absolutely everything and does so without showing any seams, which is the most impressive part.
It’s calculated and sprawling, yet never stale. The voices come from all over, both male and female, assuming spoken-word positions without ever veering towards corny. The drums crash and clank with a fervor that holds the disparate elements together, essentially allowing the other, multiplying parts to sprawl outwards over the course of these tracks—fifteen, eighteen, four, five, twelve minutes in length. With the way bands like Mindswimmer are evolving the shape of Chicago music to come, the foundation is always and forever the same. All things die, but jazz is forever.