The unusual front line of Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack—viola, oboe, and bass clarinet—gives the quintet a narrow timbral range, but it uses wriggling, high-intensity counterpoint to create an exhilaratingly bright, multilayered sound. As Bruckmann says in the liner notes of the group’s forthcoming third album, Cracked Refraction (due from Porter Records on February 21), “I take perverse glee in using the wrong tools for the job.” The onetime Chicagoan started Wrack as a jazz-oriented project, but over time he’s come to focus more and more on jagged themes, unwieldy time signatures, and tricky pinpoint interplay (a la Anthony Braxton), all played with the postpunk energy of his old band Lozenge—on “Exacerbator,” for example, Jen Clare Paulson’s acidic viola slashes against the grain of a charging unison pattern from Bruckmann’s oboe and Jason Stein’s bass clarinet. Drummer Tim Daisy and bassist Anton Hatwich make for a whirlwind rhythm section, and when they buckle down and play hard they sometimes seem to splinter the front line with their momentum as they signal the rapid-fire shifts in Bruckmann’s knotty, episodic compositions. The intensity can be pretty relentless, which makes the occasional quiet passage—like Paulson’s lyrical, almost hushed solo on “Notwithstanding,” accompanied by light percussion and pointillistic bass—hit just as hard emotionally as the wind players’ most furious barrages. —Peter Margasak
Originally posted at Chicago Reader.