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Mr. Chair: Better Days

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Mr. Chair: Better Days
Hope springs eternal throughout Better Days by the ensemble called Mr. Chair

Any music ensemble with the marquee name would read Mr. Chair is bound to grab your attention. And it would be tragically remiss to give them a miss based on the prosaic – and admittedly – delightfully oddball name. The same would hold true of their recording with the near apocryphal title: Better Days. Likewise, their music is also almost defiantly impossible to categorize [although why anyone would want to categories music is, indeed, a mystery for the ancients].

The artistic conception – for it is at the heart of this ensemble – is to devise a series of musical incidents in which the lugubrious, and often forlorn human-sounding moaning, groaning and bellowing of the lone trombone is cast as the lead character in a kind of oratorio. Mark Hetzler, who lays the instrument is not left to care the “scene” all by himself. He has a supporting cast that includes two chordal instruments: guitarist José Guzman and keyboards player Jason Kutz, the latter of whom brings to the performance a number of electronically programmed keyboards as well. All three musicians are supported by a towering wall of thunderous rhythm in the form of bassist Ben Ferris and drummer Mike Koszewski.

What ensues is music sculpted in an eclectic mix of styles and the whole experience is akin to listening to a background score of the oratorio; even a soundtrack for an arresting nouvelle vague film in which the musicians play themselves. The musical action is so audacious that it can only be considered James Joyce meets Samuel Beckett or stream-of-consciousness meets the theatre of the absurd. This, of course, only refers to the narrative, which is revealed in rippling jazzy grooves and symphonic orchestral-like sequences that are thrust forward, pulled back, propelled in elliptical arcs, broken up into jagged events by constantly changing rhythmic gestures [cue Uncanny Valley, often à la Charles Mingus and sometimes à la Frank Zappa.

The band constantly injects that 1970s cinematic quality, launching into a broodingly tumbling groove, before breaking out into a loose, funky metre. By contrast the band swings on both versions of Fuchsia – the first with the magical hip-hop poetry of Buzz Kemper to go with it, written and recited by Buzz Kemper – and then as an instrumental; and elsewhere where the trombone, or guitar take over and become the lead voices. All in all Mr. Chair has seen to it that Better Days is something we will experience, often catching our breaths while on the proverbial edge of our seats.

Deo gratis…!

Tracks – 1: March; 2: Fuchsia; 3: Better Days; 4: Elegy; 5: Abandoned Cities; 6: Appelation Spring; 7: Britten’s Written Wisdom; 8: Fuchsia; 9:  Uncanny Valley

Musicians – José Guzman: guitar; Mark Hetzler: trombone; Jason Kutz: keyboards; Ben Ferris: bass; Mike Koszewski: drums. Guests – Eddie Barbash: alto saxophone [4, 8]; Buzz Kemper: voice and poetry [2]

Released – 2023
Label – Independent
Runtime – 1:04:27

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