A feisty, fresh and smart sextet, Herculaneum dub their music “prog-jazz.” But the progressive tendencies blend agreeably with acoustic and retro elements. The group of Chicagoans, founded and driven by drummer Dylan Ryan, commingle references and attitudes from post-Mingus swing to rock-influenced angularity. They also channel fringe-dwellers from the Sun Ra Arkestra to the convention-busting Either/Orchestra.
Ryan and bassist Greg Danek ground the horn-heavy frontline of trombonist Nick Broste, alto saxophonist David McDonnell, tenor player Nate Lepine and trumpeter Patrick Newbery. With its shifting array of chordal motion, interweaving lines and riffs, Herculaneum can suggest the brassy-reedy texture of a “micro big band.”
Beginning with the driving “Dragons Office” and concluding with the chugging “Rumors,” Uchū’s eight-track program nonetheless moves across a varied landscape of moods and feels. Overtone-sweeping arco bass opens the exotic “Elmyr,” which bears echoes of Sun Ra. “Chianti” begins as an introspective, open-spirited ballad before increasing in intensity via a sturdy Lepine solo. With its elastic meter, “Elizabeth Perkins” honors the actress from Showtime’s series Weeds. Indeed, it resembles a gonzo variation of a TV theme song. The energetic “Age of Iron” lives up to its name, as does “Little Murders,” a slinky, bluesy vehicle with a patina of irony.
The band’s fifth album, Uchū captivates listeners with form, content and sufficient amounts of improvisation amid the structure-centric music. Sleek and witty, Herculaneum show great promise.
— Josef Woodard