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This is what happens when five like-minded musicians strike the ideal balance between structure and freedom, give it a coat of sly irreverence and perform it with unbridled joy.
Harder on the Outside is a triumph, but not without a wart or two. It’s safe to assume, however, that for guitarist Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord, perfection never entered into the equation. This band of fellow travelers currently consists of bassist Moppa Elliott, drummer Dan Monaghan, saxophonist Justin Wood and musical nihilist Bryan Murray, who doubles on tenor and “balto,” an alto saxophone outfitted with a baritone mouthpiece and plastic reed.
Harder is arguably the most groove-oriented of the band’s nine albums. “Basic Bitches,” “Prednisone” and “Cereal” all strut to some manner of a four-square beat, while “Three Plus” creeps along on a hypnotic tom-tom groove. This rhythmic spaciousness allows plenty of room for Lundbom and the horn players to explore a vast array of feels and sounds. After the noir-ish melody of “Basic Bitches,” anchored by Elliott’s sinewy bass vamp, Murray blurts his way into a balto solo that alternates between jittery lines and jarring squawks, like an inmate clamoring for help from the far end of cellblock 9.
Most guitarists over the course of jazz history have found a signature sound and essentially stuck to it. Not Lundbom. He hews closely to jazz on his probing solo for “Cereal,” but cranks up the sustain and goes into full metal frenzy on “Prednisone,” then punishes the strings in the collective noisefest that is “Fussing Blues.” The lead track, “People Be Talking,” features his most intriguing solo, a slippery, slurry excursion over free rhythm that sounds as if it’s darting around corners to stay just ahead of the listener. Lundbom can noise it up with the best of ‘em, and is also a master of building crescendos that spur his bandmates into joining the fun.—Eric Snider
Featured photo by Bryan Murray.