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Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF
Band Jazz Avant-garde


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"Gig review: 'Mosaik' at The Jazz Showcase, Chicago, 27 June 2012"

Gig review: 'Mosaik' at The Jazz Showcase, Chicago, 27 June 2012

Review by Rob Mallows, organiser, London Jazz Meetup

The Jazz Showcase is in many ways Chicago's answer to Ronnie Scott's. Its been going for over sixty years; it's still owned by the same man - musician Joe Segal, who's run the place since 1947 but now leaves it to his son to manage day to day. It is home to both national touring acts and local jazz musicians and has a reputation to die for.

Just a look at the bill posters on the wall of its pleasant new venue in the former parcels office of the old Dearborn Station tells you all you need to know about it's status as one of the great homes of jazz: Chick Corea, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Dizzy Gillespie to name just a few of the names I read.

Unlike Ronnie's, however, the Showcase retains old-school jazz club elements that the former has left behind: $10 (£6.75!) entry, for a start; no pre-booking or dining; tables and chairs, and sofas, instead of benches; and no chuck-outs between sets. And it's all the better for it. Feels like what Ronnie Scott's must have been like thirty years ago.

As such, it gives as great a prominence to local acts as the star names. I went to see two differing sets from local group Mosaik. Playing their own compositions, a set at The Showcase is a chance to play the music they like and, in the words of drummer Nils Higdon, 'take a break from playing weddings and teaching.'

Led by guitarist Kevin Brown, the band plays fusion jazz that evidently seems to draw heavily on Coltrane, Montgomery and Hubbard while being equally comfortable skirting the shores of swing and rock. New bassist Alex Wing - an obvious boon to the band - provided the electric bass groove and chops that we're complex but didn't over-egg the pudding. His sound worked well with Brown's fretless guitar, their tones at times suggesting two bass players workings together in different octaves, such was the absence of high-end timbre and bite that one would expect from a fretted guitar.

Drummer Higdon threw together some great drum sounds, leading the band into some heavy-duty rhythmic changes and complex 12:4 passages. At times, head turned to the side and eyes closed, he was like an engineer listening intently to a finely tuned jazz-fuelled engine. Sax player Andy Schlinder took on the task of the heavy lifting when it came to the melody and power, combining hard blowing and gripping runs with an easy tone on the quieter ballads. An element that set the music apart for me was Preyas Roy's vibe playing which was blisteringly fast but without overpowering the group's overall sound.

On compositions like 'Monsieur Gauthier' and the Samba-influenced 'El Gato' in the second set - both Brown compositions from their album Integral Decomposition - the band went up a gear and skirted the freer end of the jazz spectrum, but all the while still retaining a central core of strong melody and tight interplay that retained the interest of a small, but enthusiastic Wednesday evening crowd.

Upon leaving the venue at midnight, having listened to three hours of great jazz from a young band clearly destined to go beyond the metropolitan Chicago area and - as I suggested to Brown - perhaps join the burgeoning scene in London and Europe at some point - I knew this was a special place.

I'm in Chicago for two things: Cubs baseball and jazz. Earlier in the day, the Cubs lost 17-1 at home to the Mets. At least I could rely on Chicago's jazz scene to deliver a better result.

Find out it more about the band and the album on Kevin's website:

Venue info:
Jazz Showcase
Dearborn Station
806 S. Plymouth Ct.
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 360-0234

Website: - Rob Mallows


Let’s be honest, at one point or another most of us have pretended to be into Jazz music. Maybe it was in High School when the band director asked you to join the Jazz band and you checked out Kind Of Blue from the library and totally dug it for a few minutes before putting Reign In Blood back on your walkman. Or maybe you moved to Chicago and thought it’d be culturally appropriate for you to go to the Green Mill with some friends one time and have totally been meaning to go back. Or maybe you’re so hooked on the stuff that you practically live at the Chicago Jazz Record Mart… Whatever your level of interest, there’s something to appreciate in Mosaik’s latest album, Integral Decomposition. It’s got gorgeous melodies for the romantics, burning chops for the technically obsessed and frenetic time changes for the mathematically inclined. To help piece through some of the albums complexities and quirks, Indie Monday presents the following companion piece to the album:

We call it,

A Few Things About Kevin Brown (Mosaik’s Guitarist/Composer) That Explain Some Of The Metric, Chordal and Technical Insanity of His Latest Record.

Kevin has a punk rock heart and a jazz/funk soul.
Over the course of our interview Kevin has name-dropped Nirvana, Metallica and Pantera next to Coltraine and Ellington. No Use For A Name, Propoghandi and Canadian punk band, Choke along side Weather Report and Joe Pass. This back-and-forth influence is part of what makes Mosaik’s sound so unique. Moments of punk rock intensity and Speed Metal chops live alongside attention-to-every-little-detail, fret-burning jazz and smooth latin balladry. “I wrote a lot in a punk band I played in 9th and 10th grade” says Kevin of his musical roots, “late junior high was a lot of NOFX, Satanic Surfers, The Misfits. Weather Report, that was my transition into jazz. Weather Report, Joe Pass, Duke Ellington. John Coltraine’s A Love Supreme was one of the first jazz albums that really made me…that one. OH!” I watch a grin sneak across Kevin’s face in an unintended confirmation that THIS was the record that really got a hold of him. Countless hours of practice, an undergraduate degree in guitar performance, a year of sheddin’ in a suburban bedroom and two years of graduate Jazz studies at DePaul later, and he’s dropping an album that in an odd way sums up his last 17-years pretty nicely.

Kevin likes weird instruments.
Mosaik features some pretty left-of-center instrumentation – even for a modern jazz group. Besides six-string bass and a MalletKAT MIDI percussion mallet controller (think, electronic vibraphone), Kevin exclusively plays a warbly, shimmery, smooth-as-butter-melting-on-flapjacks fretless guitar made by Barkley (we don’t know who that is either). “I got it from my Mom’s cousin. A hand me down. It’s like a Les Paul copy.” He re-discovered it in his basement, had it fretless’d, modded, tuned up and bam – completely unique instrument. “I didn’t really see anyone who had a really full chordal approach, a full jazz, fretless guitar thing, so I was inspired to go for it.” and go for it he has. Every track features the Barclay fretless which proves to be more than just a gimmick. The unique tone and playing style elevate tunes that are interesting in their own right into another realm entirely.

Kevin has a tendency to understate.
“In standard jazz format, you play the melody and then you improvise and then you play the melody again. That’s pretty much what we do.” He’s right, sort’ve. Take, for example, today’s featured track Laansma. Mathematically, the piece seems simple enough - it’s basically melody, improvisation, melody… except that it’s wildly complicated. Laansma is a great song on it’s own, but its interest is only enhanced by understanding just how deeply Kevin has thought about its meaning. Laansma is an ode to Kevin’s old Greek professor and is essentially a musicalized essay.

If Laansma were to have a thesis statement, says Kevin, it would be, “Greek Exegesis of the Book of Hebrews with Professor Laansma was really intense and we read a lot. And we translated a whole lot of greek. And he was pretty heavy. In a good way.” Indeed. The piece features three main themes (each representing a paragraph of the meta-essay), an introduction and conclusion all of which are peppered with the groups technical yet tasteful soloing. We know the track is long BUT, if you’re game, do yourself a favor and turn off the TV (or the Facebook, or step outside of the Pokemon convention), hit play and really dig into the music. Think of it like an essay. An essay that, you know, could catch fire at any second due to the face melting solos and mind-warping meter changes…

Greek Exegesis of the Book of Hebrews with Professor Laansma was really intense and we read a lot. And we translated a whole lot of greek. And he was pretty heavy. – An Essay.

Introduction (:01 – 1:30) The Main Theme
States thesis, introduces main theme.
Note: Intensely complex yet intensely catchy. How does that even work?
Briefly states each main argument
1. 7/4 uptempo swing
2. Irregular meter back-beat funk
3. Laid back halftime straight 8ths
Supporting Evidence (1:30 – 12:23): The argument? Mad soloing.
Guitar Solo (1:30 – 3:45)
1st Paragraph (1:30 – 2:26) - 7/4 uptempo swing
2nd Paragraph (2:27 – 3:29) - Irregular meter back-beat funk
3rd Paragraph (3:30 – 3:45) - Halftime straight 8ths
Sax Solo (3:45 – 5:53)
Vibe Solo (5:54 – 8:00)
Bass Solo (8:01 – 10:20)
Drum Solo (10:21 – 12:22)

Conclusion (12:23 – 13:33): Repeats thesis statement, rewards listener for their hard work by bringing back that super-tasty theme from the opening.

Bottom line, Mosaik makes good music. Music that’s melodic yet frenetic, abrasive yet pretty. It’s the kind of music that demands deep listening and rewards commitment. It’s the kind of music that just isn’t all that popular anymore but, at least in our opinion, definitely should be.

.Matt Tanaka
- Indie Monday

"CD Review - Integral Decomposition"

Mosaik - Integral Decomposition

Kevin Brown – Guitar
Andy Schlinder – Saxophones
Preyas Roy – Mallets
Ian Stewart – Bass
Nils Higdon – Drums

Chicago’s Mosaik is one of a growing number of fusion bands that have been making some serious music in Chicago over the past couple of years. Boasting a great lineup of some of Chicago’s best young talent, these five are making some interesting and compelling music. Part of the draw to Mosaik comes from their unique instrumentation. Andy Schlinder and Nils Higdon play conventional instruments (saxophones and drum kit), but leader Kevin Brown plays a fretless guitar, Preyas Roy plays a mallet synthesizer (think electronic xylophone) and Ian Stewart’s six-string bass playing doesn’t sound like anything that you’ll hear on your standard issue jazz disc. The end result is a band that sounds different in a lot of great ways.

Clocking in at about forty-five minutes, Integral Decomposition is a fairly short CD, with just five songs. Within those five tunes, though, there’s enough variance to make sure that nearly every jazz fan would find something that they’d like. And it should be noted that all five of these tunes are smack dab in the middle of the pocket, thanks to the very able rhythm section of Preyas Roy, Ian Stewart and Nils Higdon.

These three lock up really nicely on the disc, producing some pretty happening grooves throughout. But even a great rhythm section can be a bore to listen to if the front line isn’t happening. Luckily, that is not the case here. Andy Schlinder’s playing is fantastic, and I have to wonder why I haven’t heard more about him in and around town. But, really, this is Kevin Brown’s show. His fretless guitar is a breath of fresh air, not only because the tone and timbre is so different, but also because Brown’s approach to the instrument changes too. Brown has seemingly embraced the fact that the fretless guitar can sometimes sound reminiscent of an electric sitar.

He milks that sound for all he can get out of it, and it makes for interesting solos and raises the level of the material he’s playing on as well. If these five songs were being played by a more straight ahead version of this band with a standard guitar, upright bass, a vibraphone, saxophone and drums, it’d be a collection of nice tunes. However, the quintet playing here makes these songs sound otherworldly.

The second track on the disc, “El Gato,” is a nice calypso with a pretty melody. It’s probably worth pointing out that Stewart, Higdon and Roy are quite familiar with the Latin jazz and salsa scenes in Chicago, because they make this tune sound great. And to some extent a little bit of a “Latin tinge” runs throughout most of the songs on Integral Decomposition. “Oh, Not Too Bad” is the ballad on the disc, and it is pretty. To really get a taste of Brown’s guitar and how different it is than a standard guitar, this is the track to check out. “The More You Know, You Don’t” is an odd-metered delight to the ears. Preyas Roy’s mallet playing on this track, in particular, is stunning. I do admit to wishing Roy was playing an actual set of vibes throughout the disc.

The setting he uses on his mallet kat makes him sound like he’s playing a Rhodes, which is hardly a bad thing. But Roy is one of the crop of fantastic young vibes players in town, and one wishes it was clearer that he’s ripping on the vibes as opposed to making people wonder who’s playing keys. The most swinging tune on Integral Decomposition is the last one, “Laansma.” It’s a burning track that moves between hard-swinging and hard-rocking. At thirteen minutes and change, it gives everyone a chance to stretch out a bit, and they do. Nils Higdon shines on his solo here (as does everyone).

The only downer on the disc is the first third of the first track. In one of those situations where it was probably a great idea live and a bad idea in the studio, Monsieur Gauthier starts off with a three-minute drum solo that takes over two minutes to build any interest, which is a shame, because once the drum solo stops and the rest of the band jumps in, it’s the best tune on the disc, by far. The melody is as knotty as can be, the rhythm section is nimble and Schlinder takes his best solo on the disc.

Mosaik is a band that shows a ton of a promise. Integral Decomposition is an exciting disc by a band that’s got chops, interplay, personality and songwriting all on its side. I haven’t had a chance to see these guys live yet, and if this disc is any indication of what they’re capable of throwing down in a concert setting, then I look forward to seeing them, and soon.

By: Paul Abella - Chicago Jazz Magazine


Metrization (2010)
Integral Decomposition (2011)



Mosaik is an explosion of possibility, relentlessly and intensely exploring challenging rhythmic and harmonic spaces with virtuosic individual and collective improvisation. Energy and lyricism are the driving force of their sound, propelling it through their sometimes complex compositions even as they render them catchy and approachable. The globe-spanning scope of their influences are evident in every song: you might hear elements of music from Cuba and the Balkans, from Brazil and Zimbabwe, from the banks of the Mississippi and the Ganges. These elements are not "fused" together arbitrarily, rather Mosaik allows these rich traditions to encounter each other in a musical space that is as warm and accepting as it is mercurial and dynamic. Their sound investigates mysteries that are musical, mathematical, and cultural with urgency, passion and a firm adherence to the groove. This group's fierce need to create and express can be both heard and felt in every moment. Ultimately, it is an elegant and succinct vision of the next chapter in the story of jazz.  
Since it's inception as Eigenfunk in 2009, Mosaik has regularly impressed and intrigued audiences at venues all over the Chicagoland area. The group performed at the 2011 Chicago Jazz Festival as a part of the programming at the Chicago Jazz Magazine tent. There they were well received by a large audience. The group has also performed to a full house at Chicago's Jazz Showcase and has appeared in concert at the Green Mill. The group has performed at a variety of other venues throughout the Chicagoland area and is now enjoying a stream of steady performances at the Wicker Park club, Phyllis' Musical Inn. 
Formed out of a series of jam sessions in Hyde Park with a rotating personnel of young local jazz and soul artists, the group began performing in the spring of 2009. The goal of the ensemble was to explore groove-based group improvisation, as well as original compositions, ranging from experimental projects to those falling solidly within the modern jazz and jazz fusion paradigms. The current line-up of the group features Andy Schlinder on tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, Kevin Brown on fretless guitar, Preyas Roy on vibraphone and malletkat synthesizer, Alex Wing on electric bass and Nils Higdon on drums. 
Members of the band have played with Phil Woods, Jeff Hamilton, Tim Ries, Jimmy Greene, Marcus Printup, Jim McNeely, Dee Alexander, Jon Irabagon, Corey Wilkes, Chicago Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble, Willie Pickens, Eric Schneider, Tracy Kirk, Neal Alger, Shawn Maxwell, Nicole Mitchell, Marquis Hill, Saalik Ziyad and many others.