For more than 20 years, Chicago’s improvising musicians have conducted a wonderful exchange program with their European counterparts, resulting in many memorable collaborations. So it goes with saxophonist Keefe Jackson’s Likely So, an unusual all-reed ensemble that features fellow local boys Mars Williams and Dave Rempis and some of the finest reed players on the Polish and Swiss scenes. As heard on its terrific album, A Round Goal, recorded live in Switzerland, Likely So balances improvisation and composition as if it’s the most natural thing to do.
The septet is both one of the shrewdest of reed ensembles as well as one of the most approachable. Part of its secret is the compactness and flexibility of Jackson’s originals and elegant arrangements. The saxophones and clarinets (including contrabass) assert a fetching lightness of touch even when employing heavy bottom notes and extended tones. The use of brisk, minimalist-style phrasing make the band’s springy exchanges even springier. An Arkansas native whose many other projects include the acclaimed collective Fast Citizens, Jackson alternates between tenor saxophone and bass clarinet. In etching memorable solos, he has plenty of company.