Bright Light Group - review by Wolf Kampmann

Boston is just a stone's throw from New York and yet the two cities are worlds apart as far as music is concerned. While the spirit of jazz has haunted the streets of New York for a hundred years, in Boston, jazz music is more of an intellectual affair. It's been said that in New York you have to suffer to play jazz, in Boston, you study it. Jazz music has established a firm foundation in New York City, where in Boston, it seems to simply pass through for a brief visit. Thanks to its conservatories and music schools, Boston is probably the world's largest elite school for jazz musicians. Nowhere else is jazz played with so much propriety, so much respect for tradition, as it is in the twin cities of Boston and Cambridge. The strong alternative rock scene in the 1980s and '90s made it difficult for independent jazz to develop in Boston as it did in Chicago and San Francisco.

In Boston, musicians such as Joe Morris and Joe Maneri have managed to develop an idiom whose unmistakable unification of intellectual calculation and uncompromising desire for independence, expressive fire, and introverted nobility could only be possible in Boston's musical climate. It is precisely this concord of apparent opposites that gives rise to a driving force, which has not only become a collective language for jazz musicians (and not just the established ones), but also bridges the camps of jazz and rock, going far beyond crossover mainstream. Bands such as Either/Orchestra (former alumni include John Medeski and Matt Wilson) and the Fully Celebrated Orchestra, have been renewing jazz for years, with little attention from the outside world. New York needs the world, Boston is a world unto itself.

Boston is Jeff Platz's challenging territory. Platz's sound ranges over rapturous independent rock and a free jazz awakening. The cutting, sometimes heavily grating sound of his electric guitar clearly betrays his close ties to rock. During the many years he played in the lounge-rock band Lars Vegas, he learned to discipline himself, to express things efficiently so as to safely avoid the temptations of excess often found in collective and individual jazz improvisation. Platz's music is generous, although never accidental. It is all part of a process, and yet with every beat and sound, it expresses a particular aim. It doesn't have to build up new limits just for the sake of overcoming them later. The secret of its uninhibited quality lies more in Platz's playful use of the familiar, where intuition, feeling, and memory are the most important navigational instruments. Communication isn't pursued simply for the sake of communicating, but instead, it is a method of association used to exchange and create themes.

Saxophonist Jim Hobbs and drummer Django Carranza, both of the Fully Celebrated Orchestra, are Platz's kindred spirits, as they lead the aggressiveness of free jazz back to the inspired relaxation of the intimate moment. Scott Getchell's trumpet lends transcendence to the sound; Kit Demos's bass grounds it. The musicians of the Bright Light Group mark out the terrain in both horizontal and vertical directions; the geography of each piece allows lines of communication to flow from one musician to the next and back. The transparent layering of individual musical platforms recalls the metaphysical free jazz spirit of the 1960s; the way each musician's contribution is rolled into a collective density reveals the musicians' roots in '90s rock. Platz opens up paths between jazz and rock that have as little in common with jazz-rock as Czech Budweiser has with its American imitation. The Bright Light Group is newer, and at the same time, billions of years older than everything that is subsumed by the avant-garde. A vision of the jazz of tomorrow.
Wolf Kampmann

All recordings

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