Chicago Jazz Festival: Nate Lepine Quartet


Every band has a switch.  No matter how prepared each individual musician comes to perform on a particular night, if that switch ain’t in the ‘on’ position, neither is the band.  Something will sound just a little bit off, just enough to get felt in the flow of energy between band and crowd.  For their afternoon performance at the Jazz & Heritage Pavilion, that switch got flipped on for the Nate Lepine Quartet.

Nate Lepine 2

Throughout, tenor saxophonist Lepine, alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Quin Kirchner maintained a controlled fury, streamlined to provide the fastest mainline from instrument to ear.  Whether trading solos or joining forces, the quartet hit a high intensity from the very first note.  But it wasn’t just about raw power.  At times they’d enter a state that possessed the alluring melodicism of Indo-jazz, but for this performance, the feet were incited to move not because of a groove, but because the quartet was lighting a fire under them.

Mazzarella isn’t the kind to learn how to swim during a solo.  He just adapts to breathe underwater so the solo can keep heading into deeper waters.  And it’s always surprising at that moment he breaks the water’s surface at the end.  Lepine, on the other hand, seems content to just shove the entire damn ocean out of his way if it gets in the way of the lyricism he’s got his mind set on.

There’s blues here, battered and broken, and its scars are what gives it character, like a map of its evolution over time.  Sommers and Kirchner traded blows on bass and drums like Hagler-Hearns, but, y’know, actually really enjoying the fight back and forth.  Their smiles and excitement for the interactions was infectious, and a primary ingredient to how the highly charged electricity of this performance was so easy to embrace.

This same quartet has a new album coming out September 30th.  It’s titled Quartet:Vortices, and if it sounds anything like their Chicago Jazz Fest performance, then I’m pretty much just gonna lift this entire column and paste it into my recommendation.  If you’re not much into that kind of deja vu, you can go right now and check out the album’s Bandcamp page (LINK) and give a listen to a couple of the album tracks set up for streaming.