January 16, 2019
Clean Feed CF 497CD
Pirouet Records PIT 3103
Although populist demagogues may keep insisting on nationalism and exclusivity, in truth the world and its people are more globalist than ever, especially when it comes to Europe and North American. One confirmation in the musical sense arrives with these striking examples of contemporary quintet Jazz. Fishes may be all-American and Brief fourth-fifth German with an American drummer, but the points of demarcation are meager. Except for the number of tracks and that the US disc features a tenor and a tenor/soprano saxophonist, while the German horn section is a tenor and an alto saxophonist, there’s nothing particularly Teutonic or Yank about either/
Both reflect vision of the titular leader, each of whom is in-demand in his native land. Köln-native, bassist Robert Landfermann, who composed all the tracks but one on Brief, is a long-time member of Pablo Held’s trio. But he has also played with stylists as different as Tomas Stanko and Ernes-Ludwig Petrowsky. As busy are others members of this quintet which was first constituted in 2014: alto saxophonist Christian Weidner, tenor saxophonist Sebastian Gille, pianist Elias Stemeseder and drummer Jim Black. A teacher as well as the composer who wrote all the tunes on Fishes, Brooklyn-based Jacob Sacks, has worked with the Mingus Big Band as well as with players like Eivind Opsvik and Mat Maneri. His first-class band here includes bass doyen Michael Formanek, drummer Dan Weiss, Tony Malaby on tenor and soprano saxophones and Ellery Eskelin on tenor saxophone.
Deceptively enough for someone who often plays Mingus music, there’s no sonic resemblances to the late bassist there. However the concluding “Ill Blues” brings up memories of Bop anthems like Bud Powell’s “Parisian Thoroughfare”; while the inaugural “Saloon” finds the pianist involved in angular, jumping keyboard lines in order to best intersect with the hocketing reed parts, which are simultaneously clever and disassemble s they move. A conscious finger-snapper, “Ill Blues” motors along in a stop-and-go fashion with overblowing sax snarls providing the propulsion. Oddly what by tile should be the first track but is actually the fifth, “The Opener” could come from an updated Jazz Messengers book in that it features a clattering drum solo from Black, clipping piano runs and a mobilization of the saxes with soprano snarls and a tenor sax obbligato.
In spite of other tunes which also exist in this hard and ferocious interchange, Sacks’ compositions and arrangements are undeniably 21st Century POMO. As well as four concise intermezzos among the other tracks, “Five Little Melodies” is just that, combing piano plinks, cymbals splashes and up-and-down reed modulations into a faux chamber piece where the other players up the tempo as Sacks piano line continues moderato. On “Chopped In”, an impressionistic piano showcase is introduced by Formanek’s carefully measured string strokes that are enriched with thematic variations; while “Carnegie Stock Thew” could be a demonstration of extended reed techniques that include doits, flattement, spetrofluctuation and split tones. But as on all the other tracks, virtuosity never disturbs the presentation’s constant forward motion.
The same could be said for the other CD, although despite Germanic clichés, the set comes across as a little quieter and moderate than the American one. With organizational skill and musical familiarity Landfermann melds all the expositions so that at points each sounds like one sequence in a seven-part suite. Another characteristic is that extending a musical variant of droit du seigneur, Landfermann’s bass is much higher in the mix than Formanek’s, and is heard pulsating on nearly every track.
Like the other session, this CD presents an individual vision of a contemporary, sometimes post-modern, interface. At points, as on the penultimate “Regenzeit”, the double bass undercurrent propels a simple, friendly melody, aided by piano slides and glissandi and strengthened by saxophone riffs. Other times, as on “Uluru”, the narrative vibrates with wide Mingus-like progressions, encompassing harmonized reed honks and split tones; and then half-way through transforms into a slimmer stroll, borne along on deliberate keyboard comping and wistful alto saxophone expressions. And thankfully, Black’s playing only becomes excessively busy during the one track which is his showcase.
The album’s most characteristic tracks appear midpoint with “Chrach” and “Lullaby”, the one tune not composed by the bassist. Slow moving without being lugubrious, “Lullaby” finds Stemeseder alternating between New music-like stopped key percussion and a formal Chopin-like romanticism, which somehow fits in among the understated dips and smears from the saxophonists. In contrast “Chrach” is a loose Boppish exposition with splayed piano chording, power blowing from both horns, with Gille the more passionate, and a unique clip-clop rhythm from Black that moves in a perpendicular, rather than accompanying, fashion through. That the quintet can handle such differently conceived compositions with the same aplomb demonstrates the combo’s strength and talent.
Two way of individually creating high-quality programs like these with conventional line-ups is what unites these quintets. Unique in presentation, but universal in creativity, in a way they also prove that there are no drawbacks in global standards, musical and otherwise.
Track Listing: Brief: 1. Ring 2. Uluru 3. Chrach 4. Lullaby 5. Right as rain 6. Regenzeit 7. Brief
Personnel: Brief: Christian Weidner (alto saxophone); Sebastian Gille (tenor saxophone); Elias Stemeseder (piano); Robert Landfermann (bass) and Jim Black (drums)
Track Listing: Fishes: 1. Saloon 2. Carnegie The Sketcher 3. This Is A Song? 4. Carnegie Kvetches If 5. The Opener 6. Carnegie Echos Kent 7. Five Little Melodies 8. Carnegie Chutes Fork 9. Chopped In 10. Carnegie Stock Thew 11. Ill Blues
Personnel: Fishes: Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano saxophones); Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone); Jacob Sacks (piano); Michael Formanek (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums)