James Ilgenfritz


Infrequent Seams

Angelika Niescier, saxophone; Nathan Bontrager, cello; James Iglenfritz, bass; Gerry Hemingway, drums


Ecstatic jazz/free improv bassist James Ilgenfritz underwent brain surgery just months before being back in the studio to record #entrainments, the fiftieth release on the Infrequent Seams label. The recording makes reference to this traumatic event in some of its titles, such as “#frontmatter” and “#scarequotes.” 


This  is the first recording to employ Ilgenfritz’s modular improvisation system #entrainments, a term also reflecting the bassist’s work to repair his cognitive abilities. The body and brain have an extraordinary capacity to heal, especially when one is as dedicated to returning to their musical passion as Iglenfritz clearly is. 


If one didn’t know of Ilgrenfritz’s tremendous health challenges, they certainly wouldn’t guess when hearing him play. The bassist is in fine form, creating imaginative solos and intricate supporting lines. His countermelody on the opening tune “#frontmatter” is fleet and sonorous. His collaborators are equally estimable. Saxophonist Angelika Niescier and cellist Nathan Bontrager are regular collaborators of Ilgenfritz. Drummer Gerry Hemingway, an extraordinary talent with an ample discography of his own, is new to the bassist’s quartet. He provides support on the opener. Bontrager plays searing sul ponticello lines and Niescier’s solo skates through scalar passages at lightning speed. 


“#frontmatter” features a duel with Niescier versus Hemingway, who plays freely but with metric articulations. Likewise, Bontrager and Ilgenfritz have an extended contrapuntal fray. The whole group figures in the next section, which breaks it up into varying duet textures. 


“#scarequote”s is aptly named. Niescier plays multiphonics and then a dodecaphonic solo, accompanied by forceful fills from Hemingway and open-string chords from the strings. “#facepalm” has a more jocular cast, with a syncopated riff as tuneful as it is buoyant. Niescier fires off fast sheets of runs in her solo. Ilgenfritz’s solo combines the riff with slinky interspersed passages, only to lead the group into a morphed version of the initial tune which swiftly leads the proceedings home. 


Ilgrenfritz has long been a favorite musician of mine. I am moved, however, by his indomitable spirit and continued musicality. #entrainments is both a celebratory document of Infrequent Seams’s continued relevance, and one of Ilgenfritz’s healing and questing journey. Recommended. 

Christian Carey