The Bridge Again Unites Diverse Improvised-Music Players From France and Chicago

By Peter Margasak

The latest iteration of the France-Chicago music exchange known as the Bridge rates as one of the most beguiling and interesting combinations yet. All four of the musicians involved have mercurial tendencies, working within the jazz and improvised-music traditions while also pushing well outside of both. Included in the Chicago cast is bassist Jason Roebke, one of the most skilled and forceful practitioners in the local jazz scene and one who’s explored more experimental contexts—his old group Combine used analog synthesizer splatter to provide an abstract contrast to his structural conceits. The other local player is versatile pianist/keyboardist Jim Baker, whose skill at playing standards and freely improvising is also applied to his imaginative control of the unwieldy ARP synthesizer. Parisian alto saxophonist Pierre-Antoine Badaroux has proven himself an adept student of swing-era jazz in leading the astonishing Umlaut Big Band—a repertory orchestra playing European music from the 20s and 30s—as well as a sharp freebop player with Peeping Tom, an agile quartet with trumpeter Axel Dörner. He also leads Hodos Ensemble, which has been surveying the work of Philip Corner, an American composer tightly connected with Fluxus and John Cage. Finally there’s Jean-Luc Guionnet, who doubles on pipe organ and alto saxophone but works primarily in the electro-acoustic realm via field recordings, installations, and acousmatics. I imagine his contributions this visit will fall closer to his tart, piercing lines on Live at Culturgest (Clean Feed), a searing duo album with Portuguese guitarist Luis Lopes. For the second set the quartet will be joined by cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and bassist Joshua Abrams.