Jazz and rock influences collide at times during blink.’s recently released debut CD, “The Epidemic of Ideas” (Thirsty Ear). Don’t call it fusion, though.
“That ‘fusion’ box is something that I'm aware of,” says bassist/composer Jeff Greene, “but I've never been particularly influenced by the seminal fusion bands like Weather Report or some of Miles Davis' late ’60s/early ’70s groups in terms of their sounds or those types of compositions.”
The Chicago quartet — which is rounded out by alto saxophonist Greg Ward, guitarist Dave Miller and percussionist Quin Kirchner — is emblematic of what some might describe as the post-jazz, post-rock era that improvised music now finds itself in. Without resorting to such fancy terms, we could just say that the group is doing its part to render those kinds of boundaries irrelevant — not through any concerted effort, but just because of their fluid, unforced way of making music.
That blurring of boundaries is evident in the audiences that have been turning up to see them play. “We've been playing for so many different types of audiences,” Greene says. “Some straight-ahead jazz clubs, some art galleries, some indie rock venues … and the response has been extremely positive.” He adds, “We performed a clinic at a high school in Boston and were able to talk about modern composition techniques and had the kids playing free jazz with us by the end of the hour!”
That’s an achievement, not because blink.’s music is particularly difficult, just that it’s not watered-down and doesn’t pander to anyone. “Epidemic” has its cerebral moments, to be sure; they’re part of the balanced ebb and flow of the album. Centerpiece “Rivers and Tides,” for example, opens with an off-center walking bass line, followed by some sparse rhythm guitar and a winding, pensive lead melody played by saxophonist Ward. Midway through the nine-minute track, though, they veer into more raucous territory, with shards of distorted guitar flying atop a fractured, rock-like rhythm section. The atmospheric “Sources” features scraping bowed bass and a fuzzed-out guitar playing an atonal, modern classical-tinged melody. It’s not flashy music, but it’s a welcome example of substance outweighing style.
“It seems like if you allow people, they will surprise you every time,” Greene says of the challenge of bringing unconventional music to diverse, occasionally unsuspecting audiences. “In my experience as a listener, I usually respond negatively only to performances that seem forced or dishonest in some way. I try to remember that when I'm in front of an audience.”