For his first solo on “The Bottle,” track one on Jeremiah, guitarist Jon Lundbom wriggles and swaggers with his own brand of fretwork lingo. Starting in a low register, he searches for a way upward and outward. A sly storytelling character shines throughout the solo, along with a signature mix of assertion and probity, lined with a restless wit. Indeed, those qualities set the stage for the album and for this unique band’s general musical ethos.
On the fifth album from the Austin, Texas, guitarist’s Big Five Chord, the ensemble’s rumbling spirit and drive to adventure are fully engaged. Experimental at heart, and possessing an elastic notion of structure and idiom, the band’s approach can feel like an extended hang on a gnarled, suspended five chord, teasingly hinting at a resolution which may or may not end where expected. At times, the horns — Jon Irabagon on soprano sax, Bryan Murray on tenor and alto saxes; with sax and flute player Justin Wood and trombonist Sam Kulik as returning guests — provide fleeting chords. Meanwhile, rhythms surge and shuffle via drummer Dan Monaghan and bassist Moppa Elliott, leader of the band Mostly Other People Do the Killing and head honcho of Hot Cup Records.
Lundbom occasionally pushes forward into the soloist mix, his harmonically cerebral yet rockishly visceral style ablaze. But he generally favors a more democratic role in the ensemble mesh. As composer, Lundbom gives his band much to play around and within, but not so much as to constrict their freer instincts. “Frog Eye” lays out its structured passage early and ends with an expansive solo section. The aptly named “Scratch Ankle” revolves around a loose-jointed collective improv, featuring Kulik’s antic trombone. Kulik also supplies the gurgling, extended-technique froth on “Lick Skillet.”
The proceedings take a mythic, mystic turn on “First Harvest,” a folk tune arranged by Wood and approached à la Albert Ayler, and even more so on the idiosyncratic charmer “Wiccan Prayer Song Medley,” with traditional Wiccan songs jazzily arranged by Kulik. Melodies are played with angular staccato notes in unisons — including the drum parts — with collective free play coaxing a different kind of trance effect.
Finally, the nine-and-a-half-minute “Screamer” documents the band live and on-stage. Despite the rough audio fidelity, the track bursts with the crackling energy of a band that’s at once confident and evolving. —Josef Woodard