[JAZZ FUSION] The Portland Jazz Composers' Ensemble's record label continues to refresh the city's jazz discography with a diverse range of monthly releases that usually veer beyond straight-ahead classic sounds. That open-mindedness explains the varied influences peppering its newest album. Fractal Quintet is the decade-old project of guitarist-composer Libby Roach, who in the '90s fronted the punkish Ashland trio Smidgen. (Biggest claim to fame: It once opened for Primus.) Precipieces, the band's long-delayed debut, features some rockish guitar shredding and backbeats, Latin rhythms, odd meters worthy of Frank Zappa or Mr. Bungle, and other non-standard angularities, along with more familiar jazz improvisation and grooves.
Yet the offbeat combinations never feel forced or self-consciously avant-garde. Somehow, a surprisingly fresh cover of Gershwin's perennial "Summertime"—which, along with "Sideways," showcases Roach's distinctive vocals—fits snugly, too. While Fractal has long been Roach's vehicle for more complex compositions, even the instrumental cuts bear attractive traces of her other band's avant-pop sensibility.
Precipieces bountifully blends a diverse band of Portland jazzers-—including chameleonic pianist Andrew Oliver (who, having moved to London, will be replaced at the CD-release concert by Clay Giberson), funk drummer Whityn Owen (who replaced the late, longtime fixture Kipp Crawford), saxophonist Lee Elderton, trumpeter Kate Presley, bassist Eric Gruber and guests—into a tight, wide-ranging ensemble that can snag listeners across the jazz-rock spectrum with its singular groove.
SEE IT: Fractal Quintet plays Alberta Street Pub, 1036 NE Alberta St., with Trio Subtonic, on Thursday, May 22. 9 pm. $10. 21+.