June 29, 2017
Umlaut UMCD 26/27
Proof once again that the generation gap exists only when musicians want it to, is the newly constituted Neuköllner Modelle (NM) whose members were born in four different decades but comfortably combine for a two-CD set of top quality improvisation. Although all have spent much of their respective careers expanding sound boundaries, the five extended selections here pulsate with define rhythms. Think of NM as the Fantastic Four fighting to ensure that quick moving even swinging Jazz doesn’t have to be limited to, or be dominated by, re-creators.
Vibrant in their late seventies German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach and Swedish drummer Sven-Åke Johansson were some of the first post-war Europeans to reject overriding American influences and create original programs. At the same time like suburbanites not averse to visiting their former cramped city lodging, both have recorded material that in a lovingly sardonic fashion, reconstitutes earlier musical tropes. In his fifties, Swiss-born, Paris-based tenor saxophonist Bertrand Denzler has for years been involved with experimental sound in the improvised world as part of the Hubbub group and in the notated world with orchestral compositions. Youngest of the NM’s in his late thirties, is Berlin-based Swedish-born bassist Joel Grip, who also straddles both atonal and swinging sounds.
Despite the age discrepancy there’s no question of anyone acting like an old master. The band plays together like any other well-matched combo and all the tunes are group compositions. From “Sektion 3”, the first track onwards the four use chromatic pulses and in-the-moment switchovers to keep the music going, often dividing into duos or trios to make their points. Although the pianist can ascend to full-fledged European romanticism if he pleases or the saxophonist roll out diamond-hard phrases to counter von Schlippenbach’s tremolo pianism, the flowing current created by the rhythm section could be defined as 21st Century Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb.
Denzler’s variety of irregular tonal expressions and Grip’s ability to produce whole note complexity from positions near the scroll on tunes such as “Sektion 4” and “Sektion 6”, confirm the distinctive modernity of the interaction as well. But like spirits which continue to haunt a project when its background is suggested, NM deliberately or not evinces ghostly antecedents as they play. Like most tenor saxophonist Denzler can’t escape shades of Coltrane on “Sektion 6”, with his absorbing and melodic variations moving so close to musical ecstasy that “A Love Supreme” is evoked in some way and the pianist’s comping turn modal-like McCoy Tyner’s work, and the drummer’s cymbal and rolls reach out the Elvin Jones’ example. But again it’s a testament to NM that Johansson quickly reasserts himself with sweeter and more relaxed pulsing, while the curve into high frequency dialogue between the saxophonist and von Schlippenbach turns the two to individualistic ghost busters. Similarly on “Sektion 4”, when the pianist unexpectedly starts improvising on “Just a Gigolo” it’s a signal that the relaxed counterpoint he and Johansson have established to counter reed slurps and split tones may be too laid back. Happily some reflective curlicue power serves as a sardonic reminder to the keyboard Casanova that romance should be bypassed for musical reflection. The drummer’s brass-knuckle-like smacks reinforce the message.
Although by the finale of “Sektion 7”, the nearly 34-minute showpiece which completes the session has allowed the four to appear like shopkeepers displaying their goods – laying out every one of their sonic approaches, diversions and consolidations for inspection – these musical vendors appear to have too many items to be displayed over too long a period of time. Granted the drama and story-telling present, especially in the pianist’s narratives are still there; as is Denzler’s faultless ability to come up with profound theme variations without having to evoke altissimo techniques. But the sheer length of the selection which modulates from comfortable Boppish melodies to flaring staccato variables and back again, almost defeats them all. Downshifting to solid bass thumps, a carpet of rolling piano notes and a treble-pitched exiting spurt from Denzler confirms ending, though in retrospective it was more a slog than a romp.
In spite of this misstep, Neuköllner Modelle has produced a set that should appeal equally to listeners with a taste for the advanced as well as those who prefer more conventional Jazz. In fact, more discipline may lead the four to a completely faultless set in the future.
Track Listing: CD 1: 1. Sektion 3 2. Sektion 4 3. Sektion 5 CD 2: 1. Sektion 6 2. Sektion 7
Personnel: Bertrand Denzler (tenor saxophone); Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano); Joel Grip (bass) and Sven-Åke Johansson (drums)