By Howard Reich, published in The Chicago Tribune on May 10, 2014

What happens when some of the most adventurous jazz musicians in France and Chicago share a stage?

That question has been posed for the past year by The Bridge, a fascinating project that has presented ensembles featuring innovative players from both sides of the Atlantic. The staffing has changed for each trans-oceanic tour, but the concept has remained the same, pairing innovative Chicagoans with their French counterparts.

Its latest incarnation, The Bridge #4, has been visiting local venues and played its penultimate Chicago concert Friday night at Constellation, on North Western Avenue. The music-making proved alternately provocative, subtle, majestic and a bit overwrought, but also deeply appealing for listeners who welcome unexpected sounds.

By engaging reedist Mwata Bowden, cornetist Rob Mazurek and electric bassist Matt Lux as its current cast of Chicagoans, the forces behind The Bridge reaffirmed their familiarity with our jazz avant-garde. Each of these musicians, after all, has worked tirelessly in various experimental bands and commands considerable respect, especially Bowden, a veteran of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).

For this wave of concerts, the Chicagoans performed alongside Julien Desprez on electric guitar and Mathieu Sourisseau on acoustic bass guitar, but none of these musicians was limited to conventional ways of playing. Desprez and Sourisseau, for instance, periodically applied bows to the strings of their guitars, producing ambiguous pitches and most unusual colors.

But it was what these musicians did en masse, in pieces that were to a large extent freely improvised, that mattered most. Each improvisation created a distinctive sonic landscape, some gauzy and impressionistic, others tonally harsh and rhythmically driving.

For the most part, if you didn’t already know, you would not easily have identified which artists came from which country. Instead, these five players merged sensibilities to invent unorthodox musical languages and expressions of international character.

Some of the most effective work occurred when Bowden and Mazurek were duetting. The innate lyricism of Mazurek’s cornet, especially with mutes, found exquisite counterbalance in the rumbling, magisterial tones of Bowden’s baritone saxophone. The rest of the band provided a soft swirl of sound around them, the lyric power of the Bowden-Mazurek partnership emerging as the sonic focal point.

In other improvisations, the quintet went full tilt, cranking up the volume to punishing levels. Considering that they were playing Constellation’s small room, an uncommonly resonant space that magnifies every musical gesture, the performers miscalculated. This extraordinarily responsive sound-chamber should have been treated with greater respect.

That said, however, virtually everything else in the evening’s first set illuminated the intuitiveness of these players. Each musician entered and exited the ensemble texture with nimble timing and obvious sensitivity to what everyone else was playing. No one stepped on anyone else’s toes, the music often unfolding with a degree of control, pacing and sense of climax one might sooner expect of a scored composition – or something close to that.

There was considerable daring underway here, particularly in the work of Desprez and Sourisseau, who fearlessly coaxed strange and intriguing sonorities from their instruments. Lux, meanwhile, augmented his terse electric bass guitar solos by working the dials on an array of electronics.

Though much of this sound and noise might have confounded casual jazz fans, the hard-core listeners who turned out for this event applauded the freewheeling nature of this work, as well as its decidedly melodic moments.

Clearly this cross-Atlantic meeting of musical inventors ought to continue.

For more information, visit

The Bridge #4 plays at 10 p.m. Sunday at the Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont Ave.; $7;

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