Album: Bonfire
Street Date: November 1, 2019
Label: Outside In Records

Recorded in summer 2018, Bonfire allowed composer Chris Madsen to trace his growth as a musician, revisiting ideas for songs that had laid dormant for many years; sparks of invention from an excited new composer now refined into stunning compositions by a master of his craft. Consisting entirely of original music by the leader, Bonfire represents the culmination of over a decade of work on the part of the bandleader, fine-tuning the album’s masterfully written melodic content, intense harmonies and rhythmic fortitude, creating compositions that are a playground for interplay and improvisation.  The stunning cohesiveness of this incendiary album is thanks to the world-class musicians that fill its tracks. The group is made up of four of Chicago’s finest improvising contemporary musicians - Madsen is joined by drummer Dana Hall (Ray Charles, Horace Silver), pianist Stu Mindeman (Kurt Elling, Miguel Zenon), and bassist Clark Sommers (Jeff “Tain” Watts, Brian Blade). “I believe Bonfire is a continuation of my personal style and aesthetic as a composer” Madsen said, adding “My consistent personal study over the years has developed my songwriting abilities to the point where I am finding new ways to express long-term musical interests of mine: “modern” sounding jazz that brings the listener toward the music, balancing long-form composition and improvisation, and the idea of negotiating influence and one’s own voice in the jazz idiom.”  

On Bonfire, Madsen strikes the perfect balance between paying respect to the ancestors of this artform and allowing his personality, and that of the ensemble, to shine through in performance.  An example of this is Madsen’s contemplative composition “Cellar Door”, which has a progression that harkens back to Herbie Hancock’s classics like “Speak Like a Child”.  The tune celebrates its melody with melodic embellishments from Madsen, Sommers and Mindeman. The clave-driven “Authority” kicks off the album with an uncompromising energy.  A burning solo from Madsen sets the tone: rapid-fire melodic invention from the consummate sax player. The album’s title track demonstrates the Chicago quartet’s rhythmic precision, effortlessly nailing the polyrhythmic intro in a 9/8 time signature.  

Hundred Center” has that Chicago soul sound that this ensemble is truly steeped in.  Mindeman’s solo pulls back in the right places, and is a testament to his rhythmic awareness. On “It is All of Value”, the group digs deep into a swing feel, finding sensitivity and playfulness within the the tune’s cadence.  The ensemble flies on “Lone Wolf” which features some stunning interaction between bassist Clark Sommers and Chris Madsen as he crafts a rousing solo over the tune’s bright-tempoed swing.

More about Chris Madsen:

Saxophonist Christopher Madsen is one of the most in-demand figures in the Chicago jazz world as a performer, composer, and pedagogue.  He serves as jazz faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, former jazz faculty at Midwest Young Artists in Highwood, IL, and was Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) from 2008-2014. He is a Vandoren and Conn-Selmer Performing Artist, member of the Fulbright Specialist Program roster, Jazz Education Network, the National Educator’s Association, and the National Association for Music Education. Madsen serves on the Education Committee for the Jazz Education Network.  After graduating from Juilliard, Madsen relocated to Chicago in 2006 and has since been a fixture on the local scene, performing regularly at major venues such as the Jazz Showcase, the Green Mill, and Andy’s Jazz Club. 

As a leader and sideman, Madsen has released five albums as a leader since 2004 and can be heard as a player and composer on countless additional releases with artists such as Michael Dease, Marquis Hill, and Jeff Hamilton.  In 2015, he founded the jazz/funk outfit “Kings of the Lobby”, which has played many live music venues and festivals in Chicago, and released their debut album in 2017.  Madsen is a published composer with Kendor Music, Inc., Walrus Music, and the UNC Jazz Press. He was commissioned by the Illinois Music Education Association to write the 2012 All-State Jazz piece entitled “With Gratitude”, dedicated to his high school band director Don Shupe. He was honored to have his arrangement of the standard “Never Let Me Go” recorded by Phil Woods and the DePaul Jazz Ensemble, released in 2007 to rave reviews. 

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JIM HYNES
MAKING A SCENE
"Madsen and his quartet find a great balance between jazz tradition and more modern sounding fare. Madsen’s tone is great, and his compositions are imaginative and leave plenty of room for improvisation. The music is straight ahead and well varied to keep one engaged for multiple listens."  Read the full review here.

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