Stirrup: Riding High

stirrup

Chicago’s Stirrup continues to stir up post-modern jazz

In gynecological and equestrian pursuits, stirrups keep a body in place. But Chicago-based trio Stirrup likes things unfixed. Is it a singer’s backup band or a self-contained instrumental ensemble? A jazz group or a rock combo? Purveyor of lyric melody or ear-scouring noise?

Yes.

Cello and tenor guitar player Fred Lonberg-Holm, bassist Nick Macri and drummer Charles Rumback are all longtime participants in Chicago’s jazz scene with a collective CV that includes work with Ken Vandermark, Peter Brötzmann and Tony Malaby. But they all work with vocalists, too, and the trio first convened to accompany singer/guitarists Janet Beveridge Bean and Jim Elkington in a band called the Horse’s Ha. Recalls Lonberg-Holm, “A critic described us as a ‘post-modern jazz trio.’ We thought we’d see what we were like as a trio, and we liked it enough to keep playing. It’s one time a critic helped.”

Stirrup played its first singer-less gig in 2009, and while it still accompanies vocalists upon request, the trio has become a continuously working ensemble with three albums to its credit. The tunes that each man brings to the band are a diverse lot. They’re united by a reliance on steady pulse and bold, memorable melodies, but Lonberg-Holm is also prone to blowing them apart with electronically fried outbursts of scabrous noise. In concert, the band further shakes things up by inviting outside musicians to sit in.

“We don’t have a default mode of playing in Stirrup,” says Rumback. “I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because we all come from different backgrounds as players or because we hear things very differently. Sometimes I feel like this makes me have to dig deep as a player, because we don’t have a ‘comfort zone’ of falling into a ‘rock thing’ or a ‘jazz groove.’”

—Bill Meyer