Exploring the far reaches of jazz and improvisation. From the super-modern to the whimsical - a feast for the ears. Saxophone, clarinet, marimba, theremin, bass, drums, electronics and unusual percussion instruments.
Tomato Box is a contemporary jazz band that prompts nods to the fluidity of jazz forms past and present, while at the same time ushering in a vital styling of post-jazz -- one that writhes and wriggles itself a striking and dynamic individuality. Working from traditional jazz-oriented instrumentation (marimba, clarinet, sax, bass, and drum), along with ragged percussion and sampler, this Madison, Wisconsin-based band merges the tenets of structure and improvisation handsomely, in such a way that you're either left reeling and dazed or compelled to dance in your seat.
Opener "Rockstar" sets a somewhat organized and structured melodic tone, one that the album's remainder is more than happy to challenge. Here, Todd Munnik's slithery alto-sax weeps melody, Nate Bakkum's predatory bassline oozes creepiness, and drummer Michael Brenneis (to whom these compositions are credited) forms brilliantly shape-shifting rhythms out of a mutant funk template, in which Geoff Brady's meditative marimba line forms the melodic core. Translated to words, this screams typical jazz wank, but in practice it's a startling, stirring, brilliantly organic voyage of musical adventure.
In "Wreckage", Tomato Box gets down and dirty with improvisation. Not only do they sound like they're having fun while being deeply engaged, but theirs is a refreshingly pleasant take on jazz improv. Three minutes of near-perfect (and downright gripping) meandering, and suddenly a soulful, surging funk-scree takes hold, at which point the band seems to be on fire (albeit a clunky, ragged sort of fire). The nearly ten-minute piece is not a second too long, and nary a note is wasted. "Your Dog Was Just Here", meanwhile -- dig those goofy titles! -- opens on a kinetic buzz of frantic drum, and a loose-limbed marimba line, before finding a demented, light-fingered groove that seems to constantly evolve, unable to sit still even for a millisecond. It's a kinetic, brain-alight soul groove and no mistake. Elsewhere, there are two Erik Satie takes, "La Diva de 'L'Empire'" and "Petite Ouverture a Danser" -- both short, regimented pieces concerned with melody. "Rattlesnake" is a slow-burning atmospheric brood that rests on a sampled crackle of noise, suggesting a deep-flight drift into the coldest reaches of outer space. Though hardly a short-attention-span-grabbing affair, it's mesmerizing.
Like Bitches Brew-era Davis, Any Road is thrilling music -- convergent to the jazz of old, but with its heart set on mutations of the new. It's organic, sweeping, difficult yet challenging, kinetically evolutionary, odd yet familiar -- a venture into areas of discovery for which there are no words, only music. This music right here. Music that lives and breathes a life of its own. - Allan Harrison, www.splendidezine.com