It has been argued that music cannot be abstract and funky at the same time -- that one automatically cancels out the other. But thankfully, there are some musicians who refuse to be governed by either/or thinking, and the Seattle-based Reptet has a lot of fun with avant-garde jazz on Chicken or Beef?. It is rare that one hears the words "fun" and "avant-garde" in the same sentence, but in fact, fun is an important part of the equation on this early 2008 recording -- which is not to say that Reptet shies away from the cerebral or the abstract. There is plenty of quirky, left-of-center experimentation on Chicken or Beef?; this isn't exactly music that one is going to hear alongside Amy Winehouse or Kelly Clarkson on a Top 40 station. But at the same time, these inside/outside performances have more playfulness and funkiness -- not to mention humor -- than one typically expects from avant-garde jazz. It should be noted that Reptet experienced some personnel changes between Chicken or Beef? and their last studio album Do This!; on Chicken or Beef?, drummer John Ewing leads a sextet that also includes trumpeter/flugelhornist Samantha Boshnack, trombonist Nelson Bell, saxophonists Izaak Mills and Chris Credit, and acoustic/electric bassist Tim Carey. But Ewing is clearly the one in the driver's seat -- that was true on Do This! and is equally true on Chicken or Beef? -- and this album's healthy balance of abstraction and fun is very much a reflection of Ewing's creative vision. It's a vision that continues to serve Ewing's band well on this engaging CD.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson