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CD Review: Threadbare “Silver Dollar”

By Hrayr Attarian

Threadbare Silver Dollar

Jason Stein – Bass clarinet

Ben Cruz – Guitar

Emerson Hunton – Drums

The creative ensemble, Threadbare, consists of three adventurous Chicago musicians who come from slightly different artistic backgrounds. The versatile guitarist Ben Cruz is at home with a variety of genres from avant garde to country. Bass clarinetist Jason Stein is a restless explorer of spontaneous expression while drummer Emerson Hunton is known for the novel use of textures in his work. All these attributes can be clearly heard on the trio’s debut, the stimulating Silver Dollar.

The captivating music smolders with subtle passion and brims with an intriguingly angular lyricism. The solemn title track opens with symphonic force as Cruz and Stein let loose a furious drone over Hunton’s thunderous beats. Stein wails with reverberating, plaintive tones while Cruz adds tension to the expectant background with his blistering chords. Hunton carefully punctuates his polyrhythmic bursts with brief silences. Rare strums, soft honks, and sparse thuds disturb the surprising tranquility of the closing bars.

The collective performance often takes on a dramatic sense as with the tense and delightfully dissonant “24 Mesh Veils.” The overlapping refrains build hypnotic and crystalline patterns. Each fiery, yet contemplative, improvisation emerges from and fades into the dynamic and raw group sound. Stein blows muscular and acerbic phrases while Cruz contributes agile and eloquent melodic fragments. Hunton lays down a measured cadence that sometimes explodes into short and riotous gallops.

Another high point on this thrilling release is the piece named after the band. Hunton’s Zen-like rumble, mixed with pauses, leads to an eerily serene three-way conversation. Stein’s woodwind flitters, Cruz makes his resonant strings shimmer with dark hues, and Hunton’s kit rumbles and rolls alternating between hesitation and insistence. A second take on this theme opens with splashing cymbals and melancholic bass clarinet and guitar vamps. The momentum increases to an exhilarating conclusion on both iterations. The first is perhaps more furious while the latter is rather wistful.

Threadbare’s inner synergy is remarkable and its cumulative energy infectious. Silver Dollar is abstract yet not abstruse, cerebral and emotive. Its multilayered construct and intelligent ideas are balanced by the visceral punch it delivers, making the album simultaneously provocative and absorbing.

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