Empty Cage Quartet
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Empty Cage Quartet


Band Jazz Avant-garde


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"A New Way Forward"

This music is a sinuous dance, but one where every move, every exit and entry, every bob and weave, is made with razor-sharp precision; at times the players even get into a delirious high-stepping polyphony recalling Braxton’s earlier preoccupation with marches. But Johnson and Kikuchi are inventive and supple enough to keep the music from relentlessness, and the bass player’s contributions in particular draw the ear as often as the soloists. The front line works off the contrast between Mears’ mordant angularity and Tiner’s supercharged mix of old-school jazz trumpet and the radical self-questioning of the avant-garde... the Empty Cage Quartet finds a new way forward for the modern-day free jazz quartet.
-Nate Dorward, Signal to Noise Magazine, Spring 2007 - Signal to Noise Magazine

"Jazz Pick of the Week"

The things that sometimes rankle about the Empty Cage Quartet (formerly MTKJ) are exactly the things that make them exceptional. No question about the basics: Alto saxist Jason Mears possesses slippery technique and a distinctive metalwood tone; trumpeter Kris Tiner can turn barbed wire to beauty; drummer Paul Kikuchi and bassist Ivan Johnson could make a groove out of a fall downstairs. So if a tune begins in tics and gimmicks, hang in there; virtually every time it’ll coalesce into amazing interplay that wouldn’t have been possible without a foundation in risk. Trained like the others at CalArts, Mears and Tiner resemble an Eric Dolphy and Booker Little for our time — or, not so distantly, a Vinny Golia and Rob Blakeslee.
-Greg Burk, LA Weekly, Jazz Pick of the Week 12/30/05 - LA Weekly

"Improv Ingenuity"

The MTKJ Quartet's music is the shit... Invoking the spirit of Ornette Coleman's groups in the 1960s and Anthony Braxton's knotty compositions of the 1970s, the music of the MTKJ Quartet burns. That most of it is created, from one degree to another degree, through improvisation makes it an example of well-stoked spontaneous combustion.
-Gene Armstrong, "Improv Ingenuity," Tucson Weekly Music Feature, 10/9/03 - Tucson Weekly

"Carving Out Their Own Space and Sound"

The Empty Cage Quartet embodies some of the West Coast's finest acoustic improvisation. Transcending their influences, these four rise to the challenge of carving out their own space and sound.
–Troy Collins, review of Hello the Damage!, © Cadence Magazine 2007 www.cadencebuilding.com - Cadence Magazine

"A Formidable Jazz Unit"

It is clear that this quartet is a formidable jazz unit with the ability to play powerful swing time and solid rhythms, going after the music from completely outside in a manner approaching the classical avant garde.
-Jack Gold, All About Jazz, review of Hello the Damage! - All About Jazz

"One of the Best"

Their balance of subtlety and pyrotechnics centers in compositions as interesting as the dynamic flights they inspire. Paul Kikuchi's rainbow of rhythm, Ivan Johnson's velvety nuanced bass, Kris Tiner's range of expression, and Jason Mears' imaginative virtuosity make this quartet one of the best working today.
-Rex Butters, All About Jazz Los Angeles, review of Day of the Race - All About Jazz

"One of the Left Coast's Most Underexposed Treasures"

Kikuchi and Johnson have developed a nuanced, intricate working method—they are adept listeners and their rhythmic interplay is tangible... Similarly, Mears and Tiner make a seamless pair in the grand tradition of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry... Day of the Race is another indication of the MTKJ Quartet’s burgeoning growth and one of the left coast’s most underexposed treasures. This album may give them a fair shot at the recognition they deserve.
-Troy Collins, One Final Note, review of Day of the Race, 1/16/06 - One Final Note

"They May Well Take Over the World!"

Both Mears and Tiner are aggressive, adventurous soloists with one foot planted firmly in post-Ornette modern jazz, and the other wandering around into all sorts of musical areas… bassist Johnson and drummer Kikuchi seem to be of one mind, taking cues from – and giving cues to – the horn players, and shifting effortlessly from one groove to the next… Give these guys a major-label budget, and they may well take over the world!
-Dave Wayne, JazzReview.com, review of Hello the Damage! - JazzReview.com

"Far Beyond Clichés"

Excellent performances that take a listener far beyond clichés of noisy, atonal, free jazz, and into an atmosphere where propulsive, exciting grooves can sit alongside floating, lounge-like passages and carnival excitement.
-Nicholas Hunt, Stride Magazine (UK), review of Hello the Damage! - Stride Magazine


Eye-opening… there is plenty of substance behind the appealing façade, and the group deserves wider exposure.
-Stephen Griffith, Paris Transatlantic Magazine (Paris, France) - Paris Transatlantic Magazine


Stratostrophic (Clean Feed) 2008
Hello the Damage! (pfMENTUM 2CD) 2006
Day of the Race (Nine Winds) 2005
Making Room for Spaces (Nine Winds) 2004
Music from the 2003 West Coast Tour (little green records) 2003
Who Knows the Wicker Man? (little green records) 2003



The Empty Cage Quartet has consistently been praised as one of the most powerful and original new jazz groups to emerge from the American West Coast. For nearly six years the group has explored imaginative new ways to integrate a diverse mix of musical influences ranging from shuffle swing to free jazz blowouts, minimalist percussion loops to complex modernist gestures, robotic grooves, odd-meter marches, heavy rock, and nearly everything in between. Performances of this music involve an elaborate system of on-stage cues to navigate the flow of improvisation in, around, and out of modular compositional structures designed to cycle, overlap, combine and recombine. The result is a continually evolving, multidimensional approach to jazz and new music performance, improvisational acuity, and compositional craft that Amazing Sounds Magazine has likened to an "urban folk music of the future."

The Empty Cage Quartet has toured extensively in the Western United States and in Canada and Europe, and they have received support from the American Composers Forum, the International Society for Improvised Music (ISIM), and Chamber Music America’s French-American Jazz Exchange. To date they have released six CD recordings that have been featured on jazz radio stations around the world and reviewed favorably in publications including Signal to Noise, The Wire, All About Jazz, Cadence Magazine, Jazz Hot, Paris Transatlantic Magazine, LA Weekly, Tucson Weekly, and Stride Magazine. Stratostrophic, their most recent album, is out now on the Clean Feed label, and in September they will make their New York City debut with a concert at the Living Theatre co-sponsored by Clean Feed Festival III and the Sixth Annual Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT).

Videos are available at http://www.youtube.com/EmptyCageQuartet