Text by Matt Cole
New from the nWog label are two releases which show the vitality and creativity which can be found the European jazz scene. NoReduce’s debut CD, Jaywalkin’, which features three young Swiss jazz musicians and drummer extraordinaire Nasheet Waits was released on 18 May 2012, and the Nils Wogram Septet’s Complete Soul, out on 24 August.
NoReduce’s lineup consists of Raffaele Bossard on bass, Dave Gisler on guitar, and Christoph Irniger on saxophone in addition to drummer Nasheet Waits, and the album presents songs that came into existence in the spring of 2011 in New York, while the Swiss contingent of the band was living there.
Individually, all of the musicians give fine performances. Irniger’s saxophone ranges from breathy long tones, to sweet and melodic playing, and out into free; all the while staying nicely lyrical. Gisler’s guitar stretches over an impressive swath of sonic territory, sounding like a ’50s or ’60s science fiction keyboard (or theramin) at certain points (notably in the beginning of “Endangered,” the album’s opener), and shredding distorted solos only a song later in “The Slope” (named for Park Slope, Brooklyn). Likewise, Bossard’s bass is everywhere it needs to be, whether playing chordal tones, counterpoint, lovely overtones and pedals, or just providing a proper funky and soulful bottom. And while I’m sure a book could (and someday likely will) be written on Waits’ fine playing, on this particular album I noticed several things in particular: he manages to simultaneously hit the right points hard enough while adding tasteful and yet busy fills that impel the band without distracting the listener; he is one of the most musical drummers I can think of (this is especially noticeable on the track “Morningside Road”); and at one point (during “The Mouse”) his playing sounded almost like a 2-part invention by Bach, translated for a drum kit.
However, the real strength of this album is the way these individually superior performances blend together into a sound that is very tight and together, and is very, very diverse in its sources yet creates a unified whole that is something more. Many of the songs feature sharp transitions between sections/feels that come off very smoothly, to the point that they sound natural and even easy, and not at all awkward; on “Morningside Road,” they go from a sweet lyrical sax-led section to a funky, moving section with hints of New Orleans in the drums, and then back without missing a step. They blend polyrhythms well, notably in “Playground,” and manage to meld a marching rhythm with more angular sounds in the title track, “Jaywalkin’.” Even when they sound loose, they manage to stay tightly together; the album’s closer “The House” at one point becomes almost a drunken blues-rock without losing underlying control, and are able to make a rhythmic wobble precess in “Faraway…But Close Enough.”
Some other observations: During the beginning of “Faraway…,” which comes on like a tornado, I noted that there can be a fine line between noodling over each other , and playing freely together while going somewhere, and this band is firmly on the right side of the line. And by the 5th Song, “Dope Factory,” it was impossible not to observe that this No Reduce has a very large and well-deployed sonic palette.
The press release sent out with this album notes New York City’s position as a jazz mecca; a nexus for the many vital nodes in the greater jazz world. The Big Apple is also a mecca for many other forms of music, and NoReduce is a very nice coming-together of both jazz cats from across oceans, and a lot of other musical influences besides jazz. As the Duke himself would say, this is just good music.
Next up, we have the latest project from German trombonist Nils Wogram, known for his work in small ensembles. For this album, Wogram assembled a septet consisting of 6 horns and a drummer, an unusual lineup which he uses to great effect. Joining him are Claudio Puntin on clarinet, Matthias Schriefl on trumpet, Frank Speer on alto sax, Tilman Ehrhorn on tenor, Steffen Schorn on bari sax and bass clarinet, and John Schroder on drums. Unusually, Wogram recycled material that he had used for earlier projects, but had gotten lost in the shuffle.
The result is one of the most exciting, creative albums I’ve heard, in so many ways. The six horns are combined and recombined in so many interesting ways, often treated like one interconnected and interconnecting instrument. Sometimes, as on album opener “Complete Soul” or “Motivation,” they enter in unison, at other times, such as on “Karnakangi” and “Weakness Is Your Friend,” they come in in overlapping layers. When the various members solo, other horns function as an accompanying chordal instrument, sometimes even sounding like the left hand of a piano (not unlike Bob Weir’s accompaniments to Jerry Garcia’s solos).
The band also covers a lot of sonic space, at one point one might hear elements of prog, modern jazz, or even Zappa or Flex-Able era Steve Vai (the latter being in the penultimate track “Zuerihorn”), while at other times the band gets into bluesy and soulful horn stacks worthy of Charles Mingus. Notably, there are times when the band combines elements of multiple musical idioms such that the listener thinks of both, or all, at the same time, especially notable in “Motivation.” When part of the band dropped into backing vamps, they cross such territory as Philip Glass-evocative riffs, stately themes worthy of a Middle Eastern epic movie, and even spy chase music.
Rhythmically, things stay interesting. The band often employs tight polyrhythms, and drummer John Schroder’s playing reminded me at times of Nasheet Waits’ in No Reduce. Also like NoReduce, the band can change direction on a dime, enabling them to cover wide ground in a single composition.
In all, this is a very fine and exciting piece of work by a band which, while composed of outstanding individual musicians, nonetheless comes together as a single organic unit even greater than the sum of its parts, and with many influences and idioms, goes way beyond traditional jazz, while maintaining the jazz sensibilities of listening, interaction, group improvisation, and high creativity in the moment.
If these two albums are at all representative of what’s emerging from the European scene and its interaction with New York (with all the potential influences that The Big Apple brings to the table), we have a lot of excellent music coming our way.