It is always such a pleasant, inspirational experience hearing TWIN TALK play. There is a quiet consistency to the indie jazz trio’s unified voice with an overarching evolution that I have been able to experience every few months or so since my first exposure to them in 2014. That was the year they graced the stage at Chicago Jazz Fest after releasing their debut, “Sightline,” in 2013. Since then, I have had the honor of hearing and reviewing their live shows as well as their self-titled sophomore album that came out last year. Through these checkpoints, I have seen growth, change of focus, refining of focus, change of sound and so much more. Witnessing a band’s progression like this is not something to be taken for granted, if one is lucky enough to do so. I have also had the pleasure of hearing each member—saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi, bassist/vocalist Katie Ernst and drummer Andrew Green ’11—in various groups, bringing what they do in TWIN TALK to their individual endeavors and vice versa. This multi-dimensional evolution has shaped the way I see this group and continues to do so.
The concert on Sept. 27 began with each of the three musicians coming out of three different doors in Harper Hall, a gesture that was a wonderful mix of playful and cool, setting the tone for both the music and and the vibe of the band . Throughout this concert especially, they balanced having a good time with passionately delving into their explorations, giving the audience something to really chew on while still relating to them on a personal level. It is clear TWIN TALK not only sees the importance of connecting with their listeners, but genuinely wants to as well —a quality I have seen in a lot of the improvised music scene in Chicago, with TWIN TALK being the perfect ambassadors for it at Lawrence.
Something very distinct to TWIN TALK shows—and their albums, but the effect is more intense live—is the natural, positive disassociation that comes from not only what the trio plays, but how they play it. It is something that has occurred to me at every concert from them, yet it took me until this concert to recognize the continuous and patterned effect. The hall becomes much softer, visually and tactically, but the music is clear in that I can effortlessly take in everything that is going on. Despite this clarity, the music also maintains a softness to it—a dreamy, cozy quality that, in conjunction with the visual and tactical, causes me to go in waves of being unaware of my surrounding other than the music. I have come to treasure these moments of sonic coziness that TWIN TALK so consistently creates.
Throughout this performance I noticed three ways of playing that defined their sound: repetition, being subdued overall to emphasize peaks of energy, and approaching their music from a songwriting standpoint as opposed to a jazz standpoint. Of course, these three aspects are not that unique in and of themselves, but when used together along with the other approaches I have described, TWIN TALK becomes a vehicle for something much grander and powerful than its components.
The band’s use of repeated phrases was showcased in this performance. If I recall correctly, there was at least one section of every improvisation/composition —or “journey,” as they called it— that relied heavily on a musical mantra. It could be played on sax, bass, vocals or drums, but in each setting, it had a similar effect of simultaneous grounding and transcending. What is so impressive about this style of playing is that it can go stale quickly if it is not done right, but the band wards that off, pulling the audience in with their repetition.
Sept. 27 marked the first performance I saw where their music went much harder than usual, a change that left me extremely excited to hear their upcoming record, hopefully out later this year. I have always loved how eloquent and moving their music could be while still remaining calming. To hear the drums really pound and boom with the saxophone treading into multi-phonic screaming territory and bass twanging and driving it forward was an incredibly intense experience, and would not have been the same were it not for its difference from the band’s usual mellow sound.
It seemed like these changes in energy blossomed a lot from their continuing focus on playing more of a “song” rather than just a “tune” or “composition.” The distinctions are subtle, but TWIN TALK takes full control of them. The trio creates the illusion of verses that are not there, singing through an instrument without one’s actual voice, or actually singing in Ernst’s case, but wordlessly, stripped down to just the emotions. It does not feel like the three write or improvise instrumental melodies and music, nor like they are interpreting standards, nor that they wrote singer-songwriter type songs and merely set them to their instrumentation; it feels richer than that, traversing all of these approaches to making music and moving past them.
You can find TWIN TALK’s two albums and future releases at twintalk.bandcamp.com. For concert info and more, visit their Facebook or website, twintalkmusic.com.