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Clark Sommers - 'Ba(SH)'

Alex Marianyi
Contributing Writer
alex.marianyi[at]gmail.com / @alexmarianyi

Before I even had a chance to talk to bassist Clark Sommers about his trio Ba(SH), saxophonist Geof Bradfield told me that this recording is probably the closest he's ever come to feeling like a live performance in-studio. As he’s not one for hyperbole, I knew that this would be something special. There’s a certain indescribable quality (which I will of course now attempt to describe) to the whole album. It’s exactly as elastic as you’d expect a saxophone trio to be given the musicians playing and the rapport they have with each other. It really sounds like three good friends hanging out and doing what they do best. It must be what it feels like when Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan get together and play theater games.

When I asked bassist Clark Sommers what made Ba(SH) a Chicago group, he didn’t mince words. “The three of us have all lived in New York, LA, and other cities, and there’s a reason we choose to stay in Chicago. No one puts you in a box here.” It is important to Sommers that he be able to express any part of his musicianship and not be known for just one thing. He goes on the road with Kurt Elling (he was in St. Louis with Elling’s backing band when I called him), he’s played in blues groups, and he’s now heading his own modern jazz trio.

There are several high points on the CD that should be noted. "Think of One" is a masterclass in how to play the blues in a modern saxophone trio setting. Bradfield’s composition entitled “Io”, as in the moon orbiting Jupiter and not the number ten as I foolishly thought it was, is an exercise in taking something rigid, the chordal structure of Coltrane’s “Satellite”, and turning it into something loose and relaxed without losing Coltrane’s intensity or velocity. Interestingly enough, “Satellite” is Coltrane’s version of Miles Davis’ “Tune Up”; so, you could make an argument for “Io” returning more towards the original spirit of Davis’ tune.

In addition to Bradfield, Sommers uses Ba(SH) as an opportunity to showcase his own writing. He said that playing with Bradfield and Hall almost immediately inspires him to write, and when he does so, he tries to “write melodies that are actually melodic regardless of rhythmic or textural underpinnings.” Amongst myriad influences such as Sun Ra, the Fly trio, and Little Dragon, he really tries to emulate Charles Lloyd, who Sommers said takes something simple and makes so much out of it. Like a food processor, he analogizes, you get good stuff out as long as you put good stuff in no matter how different that stuff is.

Just listening to the album, it's as if Ba(SH) is a DJ remixing the entirety of recorded jazz history (and then some) into something new and beautiful yet still swinging and familiar. You never feel like you’re on a different planet, but you certainly feel as though you’re being carried back and forth through time. Listening on recording and seeing them live, there is no doubt that these gentlemen are on the same page. That’s what makes the seemingly unrelated styles and feels they travel through work; you always feel like you can trust them to take you safely along wherever it is that they’re going.

Alex Marianyi is DJ Analytics in the Chicago-based hip-hop group Bellum. You can follow him on Twitter, and he won’t even file a restraining order.