The ascent of the International Anthem label has elevated the profile of many of Chicago’s most interesting artists, but a steady stream of media hype has tended to ignore the many musicians outside of that small orbit. This gritty new outing from saxophonist Jake Wark is part of an ongoing wave of young players emerging from the city and Amalgam — an imprint run by drummer Bill Harris — has become an important exponent of that activity. Ironically, despite the label’s low profile, this quartet features one of the most celebrated figures from Chicago these days, clarinetist Angel Bat Dawid. On five loose compositions by the leader, designed as modular structures, this quartet revels in the sort of interactive, unfussy intensity that’s been a hallmark of the city’s improvisational aesthetic since the late 1950s. Bassist Jakob Heinemann and drummer Adam Shead — who, like Wark, moved to the city in the last half-decade or so — are equal partners, both holding down the harmonic and rhythmic frameworks while fully engaged in pushing and prodding the frontline. Shead, stands out with a frenetic sensibility that injects fractured patter informed by European free improv within the lurching grooves. But the highlight is the charged interplay between the horn players. More often than not they improvise simultaneously, shadowing one another, blending sweet-sour tones, and digging into rigorous counterpoint as they reference and discard the leader’s themes. Wark is clearly a talent to watch, and Dawid, arguably, has never displayed her skills as a clarinet player more convincingly.
Written by Peter Margasak for The Quietus
A strong meeting of four of Chicago's leading improvisers, Scrawl is tenor saxophonist Jake Wark's second disc as a leader, after 2016's Tremor (Amalgam Music), which featured the talents of drummer Phil Haynes and bassist Drew Gress. The Chicago scene has long had a collectivist spirit, and it's on display here, as clarinetist Angel Bat Dawid, bassist Jakob Heinemann, and drummer Adam Shead bring their undeniable camaraderie to bear on five engaging Wark compositions.
Wark's biting sound has a piquant acidity, and it contrasts nicely with Dawid's sweeter tone; the two possess a terrific synergy on the opener, "Content Launch," a spirited, expansive piece that holds together well despite its loose-knit character, giving the four players plenty of room to maneuver. There is also an intrinsic ebb and flow to the cut, with fervid moments alternating with a more restrained quietude. It's a substantial cut at over eleven minutes, but it doesn't feel too long, as the piece's intrinsic momentum and wide emotional range work in its favor.
"Adjournment" takes the energy down a couple notches, with a poignant beauty that reveals Wark's lyrical sensibility. There's an almost hymn-like quality to the piece's opening melody, and Dawid and Wark inhabit a spiritual space that is quite compelling, with Dawid's own ecstatic vocalizations reaching for transcendence. "Campfire" has an even more open feel, with the quartet's communicative abilities fully realized, and with Heinemann getting an opportunity to carry out separate dialogues with Wark and Dawid.
"Thistles" and "Screed" both continue the album's prevailing spirit, with infectious, folk-like themes and abundant space for individual expression. Shead is ideal for this music, able to keep the music moving while generally avoiding a confining pulse, and with an innate musicality to his own contributions; witness his colorful work on "Thistles," where he roams over the kit in conversation with Heinemann, and in which he elevates the intensity dramatically toward the end of the track. The record's most invigorating track is undoubtedly the closer, as the collective improvisation on "Screed" is further evidence of the band's inherent chemistry and its ability to explore multiple moods, as the piece veers from wild energy to tranquil reverie.
With a compelling group dynamic and Wark's well-honed compositional voice, Scrawl is a testament to what an effective musical partnership can provide, as well as another strong representation of Chicago's ever-fertile avant-garde community.
Written by Troy Dostert for All About Jazz
On this quartet’s debut recording, Jake Wark, Angel Bat Dawid, Jakob Heinemann, and Adam Shead take a deep dive into concepts of melodic and rhythmic deconstruction, often utilizing diatonic melodic modules as a launchpad for group improvisation on Wark’s loosely structured compositions. Scrawl is the product of a working band assembled by Wark in 2018, when he had sketched out rough drafts of these pieces and was in search of collaborators to share them with. Angel, Jakob, and Adam, three of Chicago’s most active and accomplished improvisers, provided the creative partnership to bring the pieces to life. Over five pieces, the quartet moves through modular instrumental arrangements, whether it be a drum set and saxophone duet, or a drummerless trio; providing the quartet with a sense of breadth and nuance while infusing the music with groove, propulsion, and relentless agility.
Jake Wark is a saxophonist, composer, and improviser based in Chicago. Since moving to Chicago in 2014, Jake has appeared at several of the Midwest's preeminent venues for creative music, including Constellation, the Green Mill, Elastic Arts, the Hungry Brain, the Chicago Jazz Festival, and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. Jake appears regularly in Chicago with a number of ensembles, including a quartet with Angel Bat Dawid, Jakob Heinemann, and Adam Shead, Four Letter Words with Bill Harris and Matt Piet, Javier Red's Imagery Converter, Adam Shead's Adiaphora Orchestra, and Bowlcut with Bill Harris and Matt Murphy. Jake can be heard in numerous groups as a sideman and collaborator, including his duo project with Angelo Hart, Javier Red's Imagery Converter, Bowlcut, and Four Letter Words.
Composer, clarinetist, singer & spiritual jazz soothsayer Angel Bat Dawid descended on Chicago's jazz & improvised music scene just a few years ago. In very short time, the potency, prowess, spirit & charisma of her cosmic musical proselytizing has taken her from relatively unknown improviser to borderline ubiquitous performer in Chicago's avant-garde. On any given night you can find Angel adding aura to ensembles led by Ben LaMar Gay, or Damon Locks, or Jaimie Branch, or Matthew Lux, or even, on a Summer night in 2018, onstage doing a woodwind duo with Roscoe Mitchell. Dawid’s debut album The Oracle has been lauded as one of the best jazz albums of 2019 by such landmark establishments as The New York Times, Rolling Stone, NPR, and The Guardian.
Upon moving to Chicago in 2017, Jakob Heinemann quickly became an in-demand player within the city’s jazz and improvised music community. He has enjoyed an active performing schedule and can regularly be heard around town at venues like the Hungry Brain, Elastic Arts, and Comfort Station. He frequently performs in the greater Midwest area as well, working at such renowned spaces as Arts + Literature Laboratory, the Jazz Estate, Icehouse, and the Fox Valley Performing Arts Center. Some artists he has had the privilege of working with include Dave Rempis, Vincent Chancey, Jim Baker and Sarah Clausen, as well as European musicians Sebastian Strinning, Jakob Warmenbol, and Simon Sieger. Jakob also can be found performing Klezmer and other Jewish folk music in the Evanston/North Shore area.
Adam Shead is among the newest generation of Chicago improvisers, bringing his unique approach to the drum set to such groups as Adam Shead’s “Finding Home”, Wark/Dawid/Heinemann/Shead, Ben Zucker’s “Fifth Season”, the Stein/Shead duo, and the Adiaphora Orchestra. Shead’s background in hardcore punk, contemporary classical, jazz, and improvised music provides him with the ability to move fluidily throughout a myriad of musical styles while utilizing extended techniques, blistering speed, and dynamic control in a manner often unheard on the drum set. Shead has performed at renowned music festivals such as The Present is Present in Amsterdam, NL, The Ann Arbor Edge Fest, Homebody Festival in South Bend, IN, and The Chicago Jazz Festival. Shead has performed alongside such luminaries as Jason Stein, Tim Daisy, Steve Swell, John Dikeman, Jasper Stadhouders, Mary Oliver, Anna Webber, Angel Bat Dawid, and Matt Piet. Shead is the founder and conductor of the twenty piece Adiaphora Orchestra and currently works as the Director of Outreach at Slate Arts and Performance in Chicago, IL
Jake Wark - Tenor saxophone
Angel Bat Dawid - Clarinet
Jakon Heinemann - Upright bass
Adam Shead - Drums
Recorded live at Elastic Arts on October 17, 2019 by Bill Harris.
Mixed and mastered by Bill Harris.
Compositions by Jake Wark.
Artwork by Jeffrey Sanderson.