3.5.7. Ensemble
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3.5.7. Ensemble

Chicago, IL | Established. Jan 01, 2008

Chicago, IL
Established on Jan, 2008
Band Jazz

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Aug
14
3.5.7. Ensemble @ The Whistler

Chicago, Illinois, United States

Chicago, Illinois, United States

Aug
07
3.5.7. Ensemble @ The California Clipper

Chicago, Illinois, United States

Chicago, Illinois, United States

Mar
15
3.5.7. Ensemble @ Hungry Brain

Chicago, Illinois, United States

Chicago, Illinois, United States

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Music

Press


"3.5.7. Ensemble is Chicago's incredible shrinking (or growing) jazz band"

In a city as large as Chicago, where sizable musical communities consist of far more subsets and cliques, it's all but impossible to keep tabs on everyone or to even be aware of all that's going on. I'd seen the name of the 3.5.7 Ensemble plenty of times over the last half-decade or so, but until recently I'd never heard the group's work. The series of numbers in the moniker refers to how the group both contracts and expands depending on context—the core of the unit features saxophonist Nick Anaya, trumpeter James Davis, guitarist Tim Stine, bassist Chris Dammann, and drummer Dylan Andrews—but sometimes they'll shrink down to a trio or grow to a septet; it's the latter for much of a sprawling new double album called Amongst the Smokestacks and Steeples (Milk Factory Productions). The recording adds regular auxiliary members Jim Baker on piano and Richard Zili on clarinet. The full group will be present to celebrate the release of the album at a concert Saturday evening at the Hairpin Arts Center.
Most of the musicians brought in original material for the new record, which packs in 14 tracks, and that might explain the easygoing stylistic range that makes room for charged post-bop, knotty free improvisation, translucent west-coast polyphony, Mingus-like blues thrust, and some post-Trane spirituality, often in shifting combinations. You can hear such hybrid styles below by listening to Dammann's "Red Green and Blue," a lengthy excursion that wends from raucous free blowing to chamber-like intimacy to loose swing with dissonant harmony and beyond—the changing character is further defined by the individual sound of each soloist. The group also tackles "Wandering," a tune by the great Fred Anderson—who gave the group playing opportunities early on at his Velvet Lounge—and they open the album with a nifty adaptation of a traditional Shona mbira theme from Zimbabwe, which features deft prepared piano by guest musician Mabel Kwan that sort of translates the sound of the traditional thumb piano for the track.

According to the press materials it took almost three years for the album to be written and recorded—which makes some sense considering that many of the players are involved with loads of disparate projects—but I would hope that 3.5.7 Ensemble exerts a greater presence on the scene. The record isn't flawless—there are moments that drag, with a reliance on midtempo swing and walking bass lines—yet there's a real surfeit of ideas at work, with some lovely arrangements distinguishing many of the tunes. If the group managed to play out more those shortcomings would seem easy enough to wipe away. - Peter Margasak


"The 3.5.7 Ensemble’s Amongst the Smokestacks and Steeples"

One of the advantages of writing about LPs and turntables for the last 18 years is that sometimes records just show up in my mailbox without warning or reasonable explanation. I know nothing about Chicago's Milk Factory Productions, and even less about The 3.5.7 Ensemble, but my intuition tells me that the same intrepid individual who sent me the Frank Lowe Quartet's Out Loud about eighteen months ago mailed this out to me just before the end of last year.
I made this connection because Amongst the Smokestacks and Steeples features the same beautiful, nearly noise-free pressing of some full-throttle bad-ass free jazz. I even assumed, through the first couple of listens, that the 3.5.7 Ensemble was a contemporary of Frank Lowe, playing in the same NYC jazz clubs back in the '70s. The sound quality is remarkably similar, clean and well-defined and yet still a window, slightly smudged around the edges, into a historic event that happened forty years ago.
But here's the catch—this is a modern recording, captured in November of 2013 by producer Greg Norman at Electrical Audio. So is that same gritty patina you hear from '70s jazz recordings intentional? How exactly do you replicate that almost imperceptible shift? It's like watching a modern movie where a vintage piece of film is offered as a true artifact and you can still see where the filmmakers just shot a scene, converted it to black and white and then scratched up the negatives—except that in this case they got it right and made it look perfectly authentic. Perhaps Michel Hazanavicius was involved?
Diving into this mystery a little further, I found out that the 3.5.7 Ensemble is named for the fact that they perform as a trio, a quintet or a septet, depending on the music. The trio consists of Nick Anaya on woodwinds, Chris Dammann on contrabass, and Dylan Andrews on percussion. The quintet adds James Davis on trumpet and Tim Stein on guitar, and the "7" brings Richard Zili's clarinet and Jim Baker's piano to the mix. This allows the ensemble to expand and contract according to the piece's requirements.
On the ensemble's website they are even more specific about tailoring the ensemble to composers, preferring the septet configuration for large ensemble works by Mingus and Ellington, and shrinking down to recreate classic trios from Sonny Rollins or Albert Ayler. This suggests that the members of the ensemble are perfectionists, and you can hear that in the lofty level of these performances. For this album the ensemble goes in a slightly more esoteric direction, with several compositions from Joseph Raymond Anaya, combined with original pieces, and even a rearrangement of a Zimbabwe folk tune in the opening cut, "Dangurangu."
In fact, I was a bit unfair when I called this full-throttle bad-ass free jazz. In its septet formation the 3.5.7 Ensemble can certainly deliver chaos in an almost orgiastic fashion, but the thrilling changes in moods throughout this album are mostly created by the fluctuations in the amount of musicians on stage. So if you're a little unsure about finding the structure in the noise, just hold on—a beautiful, lyrical and melodic section will come up soon. Amongst the Smokestacks and Steeples is such a comprehensive piece of music, certainly monumental in many ways—it's the thinking man's jazz.
I actually felt remiss in waiting so long to tackle this review—complicated music should not be approached capriciously, and I actually had to move 2000 miles in the middle of thinking about it. Now I feel a little bit worse in knowing that this album was originally released back in 2014. So my mystery benefactor might have read my appreciation of the Frank Lowe Quartet album and decided I was the guy to give this release another kick in the pants. I'm glad to do it. Being challenged by impeccably performed yet difficult music is something that does more than broaden your horizons. It places images in your mind, ones you've never seen before. If you're the type of jazz lover who prefers to crawl inside and look at the performance from within, here's your latest assignment.
You can find out more about Milk Factory Productions and the 3.5.7 Ensemble by visiting their website. (It seems a bit amazing that this gatefold double-LP adorned with amazing artwork from Mary Jane Kwan is only $25—including the digital download code as well.) - Marc Phillips


"3.5.7 Ensemble – Social Music From Chicago"

Chicago’s 3.5.7 Ensemble (Nick Anaya – woodwinds, James Davis – trumpet, Richard Zili – clarinet, Jim Baker – piano, Tim Stine – guitar, Chris Dammann – Contrabass, Dylan Andrews – percussion, and Mabel Kwan – prepared piano) has compiled an aggregate of compositions spanning a three year history. Most of these are originals the ensemble composed, but “Wandering” by the Chicago tenor sax player Fred Anderson, and “Dangurangu,” a Zimbabwean folk song featuring Mabel Kwan’s prepared piano are included.

This music is jazz. There is really no other way to describe it. As is to be expected with jazz, the musicians have chops, the arrangements are tight, the emphasis is on acoustic music (with the exception of guitarist Tim Stine, there are no electric or electronic instruments anywhere here), and there is plenty of improvisation. Some of the improvisations make cautious ventures into the free jazz realm, but always merge seamlessly back into the compositional structure. The musicianship throughout is first rate, and the compositions and arrangements hang well within the whole of the collection, and give the individual musicians plenty of tools and support to make their own statements. Stylistically, it synthesizes all manner of past jazz genres – post bop, Mingus inspired big band arrangements, west coast polyphonic harmony, free jazz cacophony, and some dipping of the musical toes into the ocean of mid to late 20th century classical. 3.5.7 makes liberal use of all of it without being confined to, or defined by, any of it.

The thing that sets it apart from other releases in the vague genre we agree to call jazz is that it seems set upon the task of producing a subliminal onomatopoeic effect of life as an “everyman.” Mind you; there is no sacrifice of artistry, no concession to popular demographics. The overall effect, however, is homage to the urban American experience all people have that live in large cities. It’s almost like an unspoken soundtrack of a movie, except that there is no movie: the characters in the story are real, and the music possesses an organic immediacy that purveys the visceral experience of real life. - Dawoud Kringle


"The 3.5.7 Ensemble: Amongst the Smokestacks and Steeples"

The name of the band is due to the flexible size arrangement. Believe it or not, the core band is a quintet consisting of Nick Anaya/ts, James Davis/tp, Tim Stine/g, Chris Dammann/b and Dylan Andrews/dr. This band sometimes strips down to a trio or expands to a septet with guests Richard Zili/cl, Mabel Kwan/prepared piano adding textures.
The band has an instinctively loose and bluesy bop feel, with Davis and Anaya wheeling and dealing on a stretched out “Red Green and Blue” and swaggering “Ode to 2.” On this two disc set, the band shows its artsier inclinations on the short pieces such as “Whistle Scream and Sigh, Stam” and”Gravity, Resolve, Persistence” while the Andrews and Damman kick the team into overdrive as they crack the whip on “Insatiable Machine.” Anaya’s tenor goes from drop dead gorgeous on “Wandering” to harsh squawks on “Stand Fast” while the team displays delicate sensitivity on “Hope.” A Mingusy feel of incessant pulse, experimentation yet a firm foundation of jazz’s roots permeates this creative session. - George W. Harris


"Spins: A Double Shot of Chicago Jazz (and a Chaser)"

There isn’t much you can say definitively about The 3.5.7 Ensemble. Depending on the material it’s tackling, it ranges from a trio to a quintet to a septet (hence the name). And though it’s based in Chicago, it’s not entirely a Chicago band; a number of its members hail from farther afield. One thing you can say with reasonable confidence is that these guys are hella ambitious ambitious. This isn’t just a comment on their material, which covers a dizzying spectrum of styles and voices; it’s also a reflection of the fact that some years into the era of downloads and streaming, they’ve gone all 1990s and released not just a CD, but a double CD. When was the last time you set eyes on that brand o’ critter?
Fortunately, the program well supports the extra disc. All the pieces on “Amongst the Smokestacks and Steeples” are original (with the exception of the opener, “Dangurangu,” a Zimbabwean folk tune). Most are written by bassist Chris Dammann and tenor sax man Nick Anaya, but there are credits as well for guitarist Tim Stine and pianist Jim Baker, with improvised works credited to the entire ensemble (rounded out by James Davis on trumpet, Richard Zili on clarinet, and Dylan Andrews on drums). There’s also a credit for Fred Anderson, whose Velvet Lounge was the setting at which at least some of these pieces evolved into their current form.
I don’t have the column inches to run down everything on the two discs; but I will say I especially like “Red Green and Blue,” an epic-scale suite that brings to mind not just Gershwin and Ellington, but Copland and Ives. I also get a charge out of “Cdtw1,” which is a kind of violin and brass hoedown—and yes, it’s as weird as it sounds. The players can’t even keep up the charade without occasionally collapsing into a big ironic wink.
“Ode to 2,” however, may be my favorite cut; it’s like a great, brassy, Nelson Riddle sixties jazz theme as filtered through the chemically altered brain of someone who’s been living a little too large. You get a mental image of some Don Draper type, trying to strut his stuff down the street at midday, unaware that his shirt’s untucked, his suit is grass-stained and people can smell him coming from fifteen paces.
I got so hung up on the first disc that it was only just before press time that I explored the second, which is very much my bad (and 3.5.7’s good). Things grow more sober here; “Gravity, Resolve, Persistence” lives up to its name with a determined piano solo and an aura that only faintly lightens at the end—a comment, perhaps, on the diminished payoff we often find is all we get after a long and arduous effort. No such worries here: the album’s a long listen, true, but not arduous, and the payoff is a beauty. - Robert Rodi


"Conversation ‘Shrouded In Clouds’ on 3.5.7 Ensemble’s ‘Smokestacks And Steeples’"

The 3.5.7 Ensemble derived its name from the ability to expand and contract from an intimate trio all the way to a septet and even a fairly large-sized big band if need be.
One can say the same for the Ensemble’s unpredictable jam session music, none more evident than on the new, January 1, 2016 release via the Milk Factory Productions label.
The 12 original compositions, plus a play on an old Zimbabwean folk tune and a cover of Anderson’s “Wandering,” sound completely insane at first. But even a middle school band student happening by can appreciate the strange beauty in that chaotic madness.

It’s not all wayward, progressive free jazz statements. There are moments here though, dying to get through, even a strain of lyrical cohesion and romanticism, before the free fall. “Stand Fast” by tenor saxophonist Nick Anaya (Electric Love & Eggrolls) features just such a schizophrenic refrain — a moment of clarity, even the fission of a love song, sandwiched between restless, swirling then angular motifs as the rest of the musicians on this record chime in as they see fit, imposing their own interpretive wills. And Anaya lets them in!
That’s the beauty of this Ensemble. Anything goes. It just so happens that the musicians who came from all over to participate in the monthly jams at tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge Chicago are open to that experimental improvisational, collaborative process.
The process ended up on this two-disc album, meant to stir up the senses and lead the listener astray from one instrumental tangent to another before coalescing back within itself to the core of a long-buried train of thought about the impoverished civilization at large.
The seven on seven tracks fall under the gray spell of the album title. There’s very little catering to the bright, shiny, happy white picket fence of Disney daydreams or Hollywood’s Technicolor outlook.
It’s as if the musicians, quite a fair amount of them, spend most of their time fighting above the din to be heard, and only one or two lines of coherent struggle make it to the smoke-cleared atmosphere.
Pianist Jim Baker and Anaya weigh down the Dystopian music in the relentlessly heavy, “Gravity, Resolve, Persistence.” They play with metallic tones and textures while painting a slavish picture of life in the Industrial Period, where nobody dreams of a better life and everybody follows in the footsteps of family burden. The one act of rebellion: Baker’s scurrying footfalls back into the mouse trap at the end.
Amongst The Smokestacks And Steeples finds these experimental jazz musicians really playing around with form on works from the past three years. Together, they’ve honed that intuitive osmosis for well over six years to produce a dark sound track about the Industrial Age and the unknowns besetting the future digital one, best described by Anaya in the liner notes:
“Long before day’s light | against the anchor of sleep | rising, bearing burdens of deprivation | Whistle screams; a sigh, steam | muscles and bones ache. | The engine lurches forward | fueled by clocked hours and overtime. | Sisyphean toils for minimum wage | the fruits of labor — fruit of Tantalus. | Erosion of the soul for those who value none, | feeding the insatiable machine. | Occasionally revived by shards of salvation, | tucking in a child, a smile from a stranger. | Wandering minds find focus…”
The Ensemble at its core: tenor saxophonist Nick Anaya, trumpeter James Davis, clarinetist Richard Zili, pianist Jim Baker, guitarist Tim Stine, contrabassist Chris Dammann, percussionist Dylan Andrews, and special guest Mabel Kwan on piano for the first track, “Dangurangu.” - Carol Banks Weber


"The 3.5.7 Ensemble: “Amongst The Smokestacks And Steeples” (2014/2016) CD Review"

The 3.5.7 Ensemble is a group of jazz musicians based in Chicago. At the group’s core is the quintet of Nick Anaya on saxophone, James Davis on trumpet, Tim Stine on guitar, Chris Dammann on bass and Dylan Andrews on drums. Sometimes the band shrinks to the trio of Nick, Chris and Dylan, and sometimes it expands to a septet to include Richard Zili on clarinet and Jim Baker on piano; thus the group’s name (though apparently sometimes the group expands even further). The group’s newest CD, Amongst The Smokestacks And Steeples, is a two-disc set of compositions from the last several years, recorded toward the end of 2013. And this band is completely on. These talented musicians venture into lots of different territory on these tracks, and I love how they’re able to enter and explore a sort of chaos and then pop right out of it again. They’re able to move freely among various worlds, and take us on some excellent journeys. One brief mention about the liner notes: I know I’m getting old and all that, but the liner notes for this set are so bloody tiny and in a sort of handwriting that I have trouble reading them.

The first disc opens with a short piece titled “Dangurangu,” the only cover tune on this CD. It is a traditional Zimbabwean folk tune, which as I’ve discovered can be played in many different ways (and at varying lengths). The version here has the traditional percussion as its base, but then adds some interesting and delicious work on horns. Mabel Kwan joins the group on prepared piano on this track. That’s followed by one of my favorite tracks, “Red Green And Blue,” which begins quietly, tentatively, like testing the waters, warming up. There is an excitement as well as a playfulness to this opening section. And then after it builds wildly, it suddenly gives way to a mellow, smooth jazz feel, a change which is almost humorous in its abruptness. This track does explore various areas, and I particularly love when the bass is prominent, creating a great groove, with other instruments playing lightly over it, like a delightful conversation among sprites and other mischievous creatures. And then later there is a bass solo. This track was composed by Chris Dammann.

“Ode To 2” is another favorite, mainly because of that wonderful bass line walking along coolly, casually, as horns explode around it. There is a very hip vibe to this track that is totally delicious. And I love the section with guitar, bass and drums. Tim Stine wrote this one. The first disc concludes with a great, lively number, “Insatiable Machine,” composed by Nick Anaya, and featuring some absolutely wonderful stuff on guitar, and of course on saxophone. And toward the end there is a drum solo. This is yet another of the CD’s highlights.

The second disc, as the first, opens with its only cover, this time a tune called “Wandering” written by fellow Chicago musician Fred Anderson (and included on one of Anderson’s final albums, Staying In The Game). The 3.5.7 Ensemble does a really good rendition of it, turning in a version that is respectful while also somewhat exploratory, keeping it interesting. That’s followed by an odd little number titled “Dance, Sing, Paint, Write.” Hey, man, it’s hard to do all of that in less than two minutes. But this short tune is actually broken up into even shorter sections, each quite distinct, and the tune itself seems to do all of those things in its short span.

One of my favorites on the second disc is “Stand Fast,” composed by Nick Anaya. This is such a wild and interesting tune, and it announces itself as such right from the start, coming on urgently, like a chase scene. And then it takes on this incredibly cool vibe that you just want to sink into. This one has a lot of personality, and I really like the drum solo near the end.

“Shrouded In Clouds” is also pretty wild, and I especially dig the bass line. The CD then concludes with “Garuda,” composed by Chris Dammann. This one also takes us on an interesting journey. (Garuda, by the way, is some sort of birdlike man in Hinduism. It’s also the title of a monster movie.) - Michael Doherty


"The 3.5.7 Ensemble: Amongst the Smokestacks and Steeples"

A Chicago, da sempre patria di alcune delle più belle realtà della scena jazzistica, esiste un gruppo denominato 3.5.7, così, con due punti a separare i tre numeri. Perché? Semplice e curioso al tempo stesso: perché il gruppo può essere trio, quintetto o settetto. In questo suo ultimo album, è all'opera il più generoso dei tre organici, oltretutto ampliato a ottetto nel primo dei quattordici brani che compongono il doppio CD (o l'LP quadruplo).

La musica ha costantemente un che di post-ornettiano (e ayleriano, invece, in "CDTW1"), è a trazione prevalentemente collettiva, fra scrittura e, ovviamente, improvvisazione, segmenti più prudenti e altri più sperimentali (per esempio "Whistle screams, a sigh, steam"). Emblematico, in tal senso, un brano come "Dance, sing, paint, write," che in meno di due minuti riesce ad alternare turgori free e oasi di tono quasi californiano (qualcosa di simile avviene più avanti anche nel più ampio "Shrouded in Clouds").

Alla fine, sommando tutto quanto accade nell'opera (cioè parecchio), i suoi voltapagina e i salti di umore, non si può peraltro che uscirne portandosi dietro l'impressione di una qualche dispersività, una sorta di ripetitività ciclica, a tratti lievemente scolastica, pur entro una proposta in possesso di una propria identità e i cui pregi superano senz'altro gli eventuali limiti. - ALBERTO BAZZURRO


"12/02/15 Midwest Record"

3.5.7 ENSEMBLE/Amongst the Smokestacks and Steeples: A bunch of Chicago cats band together at Fred Anderson's to let you know just how Carla Bley sounded before she started making friendlier sounding music. Creative/progressive jazz that's informed by it's lack of limits, this is how arts council music sounds when there are no strings attached. And there's two discs of it. - CHRIS SPECTOR


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

Photos

Bio

The 3.5.7 Ensemble is a creative music collective that developed its sound during a monthly gig at Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge in Chicago, IL. The core of the ensemble is a quintet featuring Nick Anaya on Sax, James Davis on Trumpet, Tim Stine on Guitar, Chris Dammann on Bass, and Dylan Andrews on Drums. The group will often expand to a septet including, Jim Baker on Piano and Richard Zili on Clarinet, or even larger larger in order to present original large ensemble works as well as fully voiced works of the Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington. Conversely, the ensemble sometimes shrinks to focus on original trio works as well as renditions of classic trio albums such as Sonny Rollins’ Freedom Suite or Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity. It is this expansion and contraction from a Trio to a Septet that the ensemble takes its name, or as Peter Margasak, Staff writer at the Chicago reader described it, the “3.5.7. Ensemble is Chicago's incredible shrinking (or growing) jazz band”. While the group is primarily based in Chicago, each of the members comes from different parts of the U.S. and play with many other bands. Chris Dammann, originally from Virginia, and Nick Anaya, a native New Mexican, began performing as
a duo 2006. Shortly thereafter Dylan Andrews, from Nashville Tennessee, was added and the trio of the 3.5.7 Ensemble was born. It was through the group’s previous guitarist, Toby Summerfield, that the trio was introduced to James Davis (Texas) and Tim Stine (North Dakota). Richard Zili and Jim Baker, both natives of Illinois, were added to the group 2 years ago to fill out the voices in the arrangements for the band’s latest album, Amongst the Smokestacks and Steeples. In addition to the 3.5.7 Ensemble each player is active in other groups; most notably, James Davis’ Beveled, Jim Baker with Extraordinary Popular Delusions, The Tim Stine Trio, Richard Zili’s Insurgent Z, Nick Anaya in Never Enough Hope, and Chris Dammann’s Restroy.

The group first released The Run Suite, in 2013 which was followed by, Amongst the Smokestacks and Steeples, a collection of compositions from the last three years. The sound palette of the pieces are the result of each of the musicians bringing a unique personality and approach to their instrument as well as more than 6 years of playing together. The compositions and improvisations come from all of the members of the ensemble, creating a sound that is as diverse as their backgrounds. The music spans from an arrangement of a Zimbabwean mbira folk tune to a composition by the iconic Chicago tenor player, Fred Anderson; from group improvisations to through composed ensemble works.



Band Members