Compact Disc (CD)
Two things immediately distinguish Stomping Off From Greenwood. First, there’s the unique saxophone-and-dual-guitar frontline of Chicago saxophonist Greg Ward’s Rogue Parade quintet, a hard turn from the orchestral Mingus-isms of his most recent album, 2016’s Touch My Beloved’s Thought. Second, and by extension, is the degree to which Ward develops those guitars into powerful extensions of himself.
Consider a song like “The Contender.” Meant to musically portray his favorite boxing combinations, Ward’s improvisation is appropriately staccato, sounding like sharp, quick jabs. But once it segues into guitarist Matt Gold’s solo, this all takes on a new timbre, as though the titular boxer had changed trunks and fought on; guitarist Dave Miller’s incessant accents suddenly turn into taunts. On a fragmentary “Stardust,” the stringers’ ability to keep up with Ward’s free-ranging improv proves equally uncanny and heartbreaking.
Not that Gold and Miller are mere yes-men. “Let Him Live” finds the saxophonist following their twin leads; on “Black Woods,” they articulate the theme with Ward, only to pull a feint when Miller interjects from the left channel, kickstarting an aggressive back-and-forth which culminates in a contrapuntal tangle, bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Quin Kirchner egging them on all the while. Ward simply incorporates their visions into his own: They are his avatars, but with room to maneuver.
That Stomping Off From Greenwood freely weighs progressive jazz concepts against sounds from Chicago’s avant-rock scene is not entirely unexpected, given their hometown’s reputation for off-kilter musical fusion. Importantly, the band’s interplay gestures beyond that storied starting point; its sound—intricate and yet edgy, melodic but distorted, with stomping rhythms and a confrontational mien—has as much in common with proto-punkers Television as with post-rockers Tortoise. It’s a zesty development—and, despite its three-piece command crew, a thoroughly individual one for Ward et al.