The low-key beginning “2019-07-08 I” begins with feathery-soft brush swirls, but by the second cut, it establishes on Monday‘ stride, as a simple bell pattern becomes a leisurely rhythmic walk. Thirteen minutes later, the mood is broken. Bellerose plays some heavy black notes on her hi-hat; Butterss leans towards a fat bass line; Saxophone arpeggios, probably looped, float in front of us like smoke rings in the air. It’s a glorious moment, punctuated by the clinking of glasses and a distant “wow!” so perfectly placed that we notice not only the setting, but engineer Bryce Gonzales’ smooth knob-turning in post-production. Anyone who has heard a great improvisation in a bar in the company of jazz fans and bewildered onlookers knows this dynamic: For some, the music was incidental. Others experienced a revelation.
Housed in this familiar situation is the question of what this “environmental jazz” intends to achieve, whether it wants to occupy the center of our consciences or resign itself to the background. The disc’s perpetual solos offer an answer. Never loud, scratchy or aggressive, each performance is nonetheless highly individual. Even as the quartet settles into a prolonged groove, Johnson, Butterss and Parker shine in turns, constantly illuminating a perpetual sense of invention. Their interplay feels almost traditional, suggesting compensations of yesteryear on the band stage, but the open structure of their improvisations keeps it unconventional.
on Monday It works in layers: its metronomic rhythms soothe, but the artists and their idiosyncratic expressions offer ample material for those interested in hearing young luminaries and seasoned veterans exchange ideas within a group. In 2020, Johnson released her first album under her own name, the excellent and boldly melodic freedom exercise, while Butterss’s recent debut as a conductor, Activities, is one of the most exciting under-sung jazz releases of 2022. Like Parker’s early experiments with Tortoise and the Chicago Underground, Johnson and Butterss’s recordings revel in electronic textures, each featuring the other as a collaborator. on Monday captures them as their mature playing styles gain legs over Parker’s guitar helm.
The only track recorded after the pandemic began, closer “2021-04-28” sculpts the record’s jogging structure, retrospectively shaping the ambient hour before. In the middle of the song, Parker’s guitar is reduced to a yawn; the drums fall After a couple of minutes of buzz, Bellerose is back in the mix along with a precisely phrased guitar line strummed across the upper frets, punctuated by saxophone accents that exclaim with the force of a rousing enthusiast. Starting with a murmur, the album ends with an invigorating statement, a passage so articulate it really feels spoken.