Aalberg/Kullhammar/Zetterberg/Santos Silva

Basement Sessions Vol.4 (The Bali Tapes)
Clean Feed CF 451 CD

Taking cues from two venerable Jazz customs, the piano-less quartet and the after-hours jam session, this Stockholm-based quartet puts a 21st Century Continental spin on the form plus a pinch of alien din, since each musician plays a gamelan instruments as well as western ones. Un-hackneyed coloration the Javanese tones pepper the four compositions by percussionist Espen Aalberg and is almost expected since the date was recorded in Bali, Indonesia. Those concerned about appropriation of voice – or should that be sound? – would be mistaken though, in the same way that the trope about Europeans borrowing an initially African-American idiom have been put to rest through observation.

Contrary to xenophobes’ polemics, Europeans aren’t homogenous either – or is the continent’s music. This combo for instance includes two Swedes, bassist Torbjörn Zetterberg, who has played with the likes of Alberto Pinton and Mats Äleklint; and tenor saxophonist/fluitist Jonas Kullhammar, who has worked with his own groups and in partnership with Zetterberg and Aalberg. Aalberg is actually a Norwegian who sometimes plays with the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra as well as on Jazz gigs. Meanwhile the fourth participant is Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva, who has been part of groups such as the Fire Orchestra and LAMA.

Working the groove that takes on variants from Hard Bop, Free Bop and Free Music, the parameters shift constantly. This is particularly notable on “Ilir Ilir”, based on a traditional Javanese tune. This slow-paced creation is introduced with a woody, resonating double bass line that’s close cousin to “Blues in the Closet”, followed by a spluttering dissected trumpet interlude and disconnected saxophone vibrations, whose obbligato to the bass give way to staccato drumming and vibes-like sparkles from the percussionist.

Some of the vibraphone-like echoes are probably gamelan textures. But throughout the disc they and the more distinctively eastern inflections fuse into Sfumato-like layers rather than being used for hokey exoticism. One eastern instrument’s resemblance to a steel drum is used to good advantage on “Suling” for example, extending the theme that is subsequently circled by slippery, slurry saxophone bleats and shrunk to needle-thinness during the course of a bull fiddle solo. And while “Dewas Dance” may be named for an Indian city, the drum patterns sound as if they’re from North American Indian music, Kullhammar’s super-fast tonguing relate to Trane not traditional Indian sounds and Santos Silva’s buoyant brassiness with roller-coaster-like flutters relate to Freddie Hubbard’s Hard Bop phrasing and Don Cherry’s more abstract ideas not only subcontinent brass instrument.

Replete with sonic echoes from different cultures without trumpeting their external oddness, Basement Sessions Vol.4 shows how the challenges from each other to fellow musicians can create holistic improvisations where the hyphens are buried beneath the skill of top-flight improvisers and head arrangements.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Slow Ostinato 2. Dewas Dance 3. Ilir Ilir 4. Irama Berat 5. Suling

Personnel: Susana Santos Silva (trumpet and gamelan); Jonas Kullhammar (tenor saxophone, flute); Torbjörn Zetterberg (bass and gamelan) and Espen Aalberg (drums, percussion and gamelan)