Treehouse Project

The Picture Show

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The Picture Show Review

by Thom Jurek

Further evidence that the city of Chicago has been spearheading a new jazz renaissance at the dawn of the 21st century can be heard on the concept album The Picture Show by a loose amalgam of musicians know as the Treehouse Project, informally led by drummer Michael Reed. Consisting of three separate CDs, The Picture Show is an indeterminate series of recordings, respectively called "Prologue: Cameo Frame," "The Picture Show," and "Epilogue: Last...Words," based on photographs. These photographs were shown to the musicians at the time of recording and not before. Some of the photographs had a single line of text across the middle or underneath as a caption, allowing the musicians to create a relational force between the visual, the written, and the aural. Based around a loose quartet of Reed, pedal steel guitar player Ken Champion from Jim O'Rourke's band, bassist Matt Thompson, and saxophonist Jonathon Doyle, the band is rounded out on the second disc by no less than five other players on everything from guitar to banjo to trumpet and violin. There is little any critic can do to describe what can be heard here, save to say that the music is gorgeous, accessible, adventurous, and poetic. And it is, even with this crazy instrumentation, jazz, and it does swing so lyrically and beautifully there are certain pastoral passages on the first and last discs in this set to make one want to weep. Singling out tracks is ridiculous on a project like this; its poetic and thematic constructs are antithetical to anything less than a complete structural inquiry, where not only the written and musical text meet the visual one, but also where the musical miscegenation lends itself to bleed the jazz genre as well as those of other American musics and weave them into a loose, yet gorgeously developed and articulated whole. The Picture Show was a massive undertaking in both breadth and scope, one that might have well had disastrous and pretentious results. The final product is anything but. It is a collaborative and fully realized project that demands -- even in its own quiet way -- to be heard and savored and learned from. Brilliant.

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