Okay, so dig this scene:
Two scrappy Danish musicians hop a plane destined for Chi-town in 2008. You know Chi-town; The Windy City, The City of the Big Shoulders,….Chicago, IL. These two musicians, guitarist Jonas Munk and drummer Jakob Skott of the Danish psych rock titans Causa Sui, were headed over for a gig supporting Isotope 217 at Chicago’s Millennium Park. That gig turned into a studio session with some of Chicago’s most revered music improvisers. The sessions were with members of Tortoise and Chicago Underground Collective, which included Rob Mazurek(cornet), Jeff Parker(guitar), Dan Bitney(drums and percussion), Matt Lux(bass), and Brian Keigher(percussion); along with Munk on guitar and electronics and Skott on drums and percussion.
The results of hours of laying down ideas and grooves in a Chicago recording studio ended up back in the Odense, Denmark studio of Jonas Munk where he did his Teo Macero thing and cultivated, edited, and built those improvisations and longform ideas into what we now know as Chicgao Odense Ensemble. The album was originally released by French label Adluna in 2011, as a limited edition 2LP and CD available by mailorder only.
That is, until now.
Jonas Munk has jumped head first back into the musical world of Chicago Odense Ensemble for a 10-year anniversary remastering and reissue. Now, for those of us who never got the chance to experience the absolute joy of COE the first time around we have been given an interstellar reprieve from the Chicago and Odense crews.
The self-titled Chicago Odense Ensemble release is coming back out via El Paraiso Records on February 15th. It’s a stunning display of both musical interaction and creativity, as well as the art of using the studio just as much as a tool than a mere space. This album is as essential as the records that inspired it.
When you fill a studio with a bunch of premier musical improvisers, and all coming from various backgrounds ranging from jazz, post-rock, psych, and experimental, and their goal is built around a framework that begins with Live-Evil, you know it’s not gonna be blues jams and call it a day. The Chicago crew and the Odense crew hit the studio with intent to blow minds; whether it be some cat sitting on his couch listening to the results in some not-too distant future or their own. Mission accomplished, fellas.
Side A opens with “Parallel Motions”, a nearly 10-minute groove machine that parlays between Afro-Cuban bop and neo-psych guitar tones. This excellent track sounds like the point where hard bop evolved into electric fusion, complete with the track tracing off into a sea of reverberating electronic annihilation. “Emanuelle” makes the case for serious psychedelics. The song is like stumbling into an electrical storm during a 25-bar long solo in some seedy New York bar. We roll into a brain meld of groovy drums, percussion, acid-tinged electric guitar, and disorienting electronics. At the center is Rob Mazurek’s cornet, a veritable calm within the swirling psych-jazz storm. Chicago Odense Ensemble makes the case that the world would have been much better off had Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix collaborated. Maybe we wouldn’t be in the mess we currently are had they locked themselves in a studio with Macero, the Bitches Brew personnel, and some really fine wine and herb. Mazurek, Munk, and Parker display a brass and six-string language on here that I can’t understand, but I sure love how it sounds when it’s spoken.
“Spirals” is a short, obscure little beauty that has bristling guitar and percussion swirling around some incredible cornet. It’s a like a cross between the last 2 minutes of Jack Johnson and something off of Neu!. “Glide Path” sounds a bit like a precursor to Munk and Skott’s own Summer Sessions series with Causa Sui. You can almost feel the Odense sun melting the crisp Chicago chill off the studio window. Mazurek lays down some perfect horn lines on top of the already ethereal track.
End side one.
Side two opens with the wonky and robotic “Soup”, which sounds a bit like Isotope 217, Chicago Underground Duo, and Cluster. This is one of those moments on the album that completely differentiates this collection from anything else. “Soup” is it’s own little musical world, and the crew assembled here are the only ones that could create this musical world. “Spine Dots” is all detached psych drones and bad acid feedback that leads into side B’s epic 12+ minute “Delivery”. This is pure Afro-Cuban groove laid out for us listeners to get lost in. Yes folks, this is the part of the show that’s full participation. Now I’d like you to get up from whichever piece of furniture you’re currently melting into(I told you not to smoke the whole thing, didn’t I?) So begin by moving your legs around. Swirl and swivel until you feel things get loose. Do the same with your arms. You’ve got full motion. Kung Fu action grip, man. Get those joints loosened up. Yes, now move your head up and down to the rhythm. Feel the pops and cracks, they’re good for you. This is pure spacebo psych jazz grooves, and you can’t let those go to waste. Let Chicago Odense Ensemble erase it all from your mind.
There. Feel better? As the album closer states, It’s “Pretty Nice”. Understatement of the year.
Chicago Odense Ensemble is a magnificent musical triumph. It’s a deep dive into the lush musical world Miles Davis and his electric crew laid the groundwork for back in the late-60s. Albums like Miles In The Sky, Filles de Kilamanjaro, In A Silent Way, On The Corner, and yes Bitches Brew all pulsate within the intent and spirit of this record, but this is no nostalgia jam. Spaced-out jungle rhythms collide with Davis’ psychedelic and acid-tinged fusion spirit, but there’s a modern, forward push under these improvisations that set them apart from really anything you’ve heard. The two scrappy Danes and the Chicago improvisers outdid themselves back in 2008. Jonas Munk has put a modern sonic sheen on the proceedings 10 years later. The results? Put on some headphones, grab a beer, and see where Chicago Odense Ensemble takes you.
8.7 out of 10