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Mr. Chair, Darren Sterud’s Gate Check at Bur Oak

October 21, 2022 @ 8:00 pm - 10:30 pm

$15 – $20
In a photo taken by Michael Grittani, Mr. Chair (Mike Koszewski, Jason Kutz, Ben Ferris, José Guzmán, and Mark Hetzler) pose at I/O Arcade Bar pinball machines.

Mr. Chair (Mike Koszewski, Jason Kutz, Ben Ferris, José Guzmán, and Mark Hetzler) pose at I/O Arcade Bar pinball machines. Photo by Sherri Zhang.


While clocking in at less than half the length of their celebrated debut record Nebulebula, Mr. Chair’s sophomore project Better Days still contains over an hour of the most engrossing and expansive compositions by any active Madison-based ensemble that’d we loosely categorize as “jazz.”

On Better Days, every core member of the group seizes the opportunity to flex their compositional chops. Throughout, they’re joined by a fifth member, electric guitarist José Guzmán, who brings the more rock- and jazz fusion-oriented elements in Mr. Chair’s sound to the forefront, like a low-key John McLaughlin. But the band also hasn’t lost their flair for equally playful nods to modern classicism. Pianist/keyboardist Jason Kutz’s “Britten’s Written Rhythm” is an upbeat nod to the 20th century UK composer Benjamin Britten, as Ben Ferris’ anchoring double bass groove guides its serenely intermingling piano, trombone, and guitar melodies.

Perhaps most ear-grabbing, though, is the opener “March,” which is basically Mr. Chair’s spirited take on a classical march that absorbs more progressive ideas as it bounds ahead like the magically adhesive “katamari” from the kooky puzzle game Katamari Damacy. And that’s not such a left-field comparison either, as the latter half’s instrumental palette almost sounds like the band performing a full-bodied arrangement of a classic NES game theme—Kutz’s spacey, midi-sounding synth washes colliding into Ferris’ equally supple and funky electric bass notes, with Mark Hetzler’s smooth trombone sliding through the boisterously scaling harmonies.

Guest alto saxophonist Eddie Barbash joins on the Ferris-composed “Elegy,” which begins as plaintively as it reads on the surface. But the elegance of Barbash’s embellishments elevate the mood to find something cathartic and ultimately positive, steadied by Mike Koszewski’s hypnotic drumming. The two variations of “Fuchsia,” Better Days‘ most definitive statement, truly assimilate all of the above genres and descriptors—first with Buzz Kemper’s slightly absurdist beat poetry appreciation of the titular color. Caught somewhere on the spectrum between pink and purple, it’s a synesthete’s analogy for Mr. Chair’s bold instrumental ambitions, fully articulated on the lengthier latter arrangement with Barbash, which bends further into the eclectic sonic realms of Snarky Puppy, Comet Is Coming, and GoGo Penguin.

Fresh off a collaborative concert with trombonist Cole Bartels, Darren Strerud’s Gate Check will open this Better Days CD release show.

Grant Phipps


October 21, 2022
8:00 pm - 10:30 pm
$15 – $20
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Bur Oak
2262 Winnebago St
Madison, WI 53704 United States
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