Hans Feigenwinter ZINC – “Whim of Fate”

May 20, 2014


Hans Feigenwinter - "Whim of Fate"There is a lullaby beauty to Whim of Fate that is just as riveting as it is comforting.  The new release by pianist Hans Feigenwinter’s ZINC trio, however, isn’t sleepy music.  It has a potency that comes with a lively kick, but like a well-crafted, aged whiskey, the intoxicating effect that accompanies it is one that brings the curtain down with an infusion of warmth conducive to simply drifting off.

A trio of piano, trombone, and saxophone, ZINC constructs simple but strong melodies, then works through permutations with a slowly developing, kaleidoscopic display.  The most rewarding moments are when overlapping melodic statements break apart into divergent paths of piano improvisation and lush harmonies from sax and trombone.  Tracks like “Oberwil” and “Joringel, Wartend” and “I’d Love To” reflect that approach to the point where intoxicating becomes positively addictive.

Some tracks, though, break from the mold a bit.  “Right-Hand Twist” adopts a sharper tone and a shuffle cadence, whereas “Objet Trouvé” is a little dust storm of melody… bits peek out from within the rhythmic torrents.  And then there’s “Usa?” which adopts the album’s common formula, but hits the fast forward button, adding a playfulness that sets right with things.  “EMX” also utilizes a quick tempo, but even as improvisations flash by, the occasional returns to melody always keep the song well in sight.

Just a gorgeous album.

Your album personnel:  Hans Feigenwinter (piano), Andreas Tschopp (trombone), and Domenic Landolf (tenor & soprano saxes).

Released on Unit Records.

Jazz from the Basel, Switzerland scene.

Available at:  eMusic

Something Different: Skykptn’s 28 – “Skykptn’s 28″

February 22, 2014


Skykptn's 28 - "Skykptn's 28"One of the more intriguing releases I’ve discovered in 2014 thus far is Skykptn’s 28, the self-titled debut by Skykptn’s 28.  A little chamber jazz, a little folk music, a little indie-rock, and a whole lot its own unique identity.  That viola and cello comprise two parts of this sextet arrangement is no small factor in the captivating, soothing music that results from the collaboration.  Their duality as instigators of rhythmic magnetism and weapons of melodic beauty instills this music with a swaying nonchalance that is positively addictive, and when they lay down the harmony, it’s as comforting as sunlight on a winter day.

Add to that guitar’s penchant for a surf twang and a pointillism approach to melodic expression, and now the viola-cello contribution is enhanced twice over.  The saxophone contribution is one in which it carefully picks its parts, choosing to interweave its solos within the fabric of the group collective, so as to blur the line between soloist and accompaniment.  Bass and drums stay in synch throughout, at times separating to cover different ends of the field, but always staying within eyesight of one another.

Most tracks maintain a dreamy atmosphere, a lazy day languor that’s terribly intoxicating, but there are tracks like “Intro Die Leiden” and “Spacecowboys” that slip right into a thick drone, with the former of those two steering the music into tepidly dissonant territory and the latter utilizing the drone as an instrument of pure harmonic bliss.  “Die Leiden Des Jungen B Im Reich Des Dschingis Khan” begins with the peaceful demeanor prevalent on this recording, but the ensemble does raise their voice near the end, loosing their clamorous persona long enough to light up with some electric guitar burn, cry out with saxophone howls, and charge ahead with the thundering hooves of drums.  “Havarie In Grundremmingen” develops a catchy little groove, and though it doesn’t stray far from the album’s central identity, the slight change of scenery provides for a nice dose of contrast.

Music that’s Something Different, but intoxicating in a way that makes it seem so very familiar.  I’m quite taken with this recording.

Your album personnel:  Birte Fuchs (viola), Nathalie Hörhold-Ponneau (cello), Christopher Klein (saxophone. flute), Thomas Büchel (guitar), Benjamin Hiesinger (bass), and Janis Görlich (drums).

Released on Unit Records.

Jazz from the Berlin scene.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon MP3

The Something Different review series highlights albums that are unlike anything else, and which embrace the best qualities of creative vision.

Bird is the Worm Best of 2013: Albums 21-25

December 26, 2013


Today’s post reveals the 21st through the 25th Bird is the Worm albums of the year.


BitW square avatarFor each album considered for inclusion, I was looking for it to hit me right in my heart, provoke a strong emotional reaction.  I was also looking for it to engage my brain, provide some intrigue or fascination with the music being presented.  Extra points were awarded for doing Something Different or building on a premise that embraced the best qualities of creativity.  Strong musicianship alone is not enough.  Many solid albums didn’t make the list.  It literally pains me when I see some of the albums that weren’t included.  But I listen to a lot of music, and one of the rare downsides to encountering so much great Jazz is that some of it won’t receive the recognition it deserves.  So there you have it.

These are not reviews.  They are simple thoughts, reminiscences, fragments of recollections, and brief opinions about how each album struck me both now and when I first heard it.  There is a link to a more formal review following each entry… that’s where you go to find out what’s what about each recording.  Most reviews are accompanied with embedded audio so you can hear some of the music, as well as personnel and label information, links to artist, label, and retail sites, and anything else that seemed relevant at the time I wrote the review.

Let’s begin…



21.  Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope – Mirage

Brian Landrus - "Mirage"I was perpetually fascinated throughout the year in how Landrus was able to mesmerize with his blend of mainstream jazz, old-school soul jazz, and string quartet.  A reed man who specializes in the low end of the register, Landrus’s music had the added gift of the haunting warmth of contra-alto & bass clarinets and bass & bari saxes.  This, when balanced against the lightness of strings and the shimmering glow of a mainstream sound, resulted in a textured sound that hit the mark time and time again.  Just a remarkable album.

Released on BlueLand Records.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.


22.  Gary Burton Quartet – Guided Tour

Gary Burton - "Guided Tour"The communion between Burton’s vibes and Julian Lage’s guitar is the winning formula on this recording.  Sanchez and Colley on drums and bass sure didn’t hurt, but Burton’s icy brightness and Lage’s charming twang was a partnership in sound that gave this album its defining character.  An instance where a straight-ahead recording differentiates itself from the pack, and displays that there is no end to the singular ways to express old languages in new, exciting ways.

Released on Mack Avenue Records.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.


23.  Matt Holman’s Diversion Ensemble – When Flooded

Matt Holman - "When Flooded"Back when I made this album my eMusic Pick of the Week, I described this recording as having a “heavy serenity.”  I still think that’s an apt description.  The trumpet led outing possesses a gravity that precludes analogizing this album with terms of flight, and yet the addition of clarinets, guitar, and cello provides a delicate touch that belies its prevalent weightiness.  That contrast is one of the qualities that make this such a winning album.  Beautiful drifting melodies would be another.

Released on Brooklyn Jazz Underground.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.


24.  Damir Out Loud – Graduation Day

Damir Out Loud - "Graduation Day"There is an abiding warmth to this music that has never waned for me.  Modern in approach, and yet it hits on enough hard bop moments of the past to appeal to both the old- and new-schooler in me.  Melodies that emerge suddenly, but structured in a way that keeps on the memory long after each song has ended.  The interplay between trumpet and vibes carries the day on this charming debut recording, and solidify its position as one of the best recordings of 2013.

Released on Unit Records.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.


25.  Goran Kajfes Subtropic Arkestra – The Reason Why Vol. 1

Goran Kajfes - "The Reason Why Vol 1"The hyper-exhilaration of this album just won’t fade with time.  Backed by his Subtropic Arkestra, Kajfes channels the simultaneous imagery of outer space big band jazz like Sun Ra, and the finely textured ambient drive of Krautrock acts like Cluster, while voicing this music with his personal blend of jazz, rock, and psychedelia.  This recording’s spot-on blend of colorful orchestration, catchy melodies, and rhythmic fireworks would be equally at home in late-night dance halls as it would be as a soundtrack to a James Bond action flick.  There’s something undeniably cool about this music, enhanced by its ability to elicit smiles on command.

Released on Headspin Recordings.

A Bird is the Worm review HERE.



Tomorrow’s post reveals the Bird is the Worm numbers 16-20 2013 albums of the year.


Lucien Dubuis Trio & The Spacetet – “Design Your Future”

December 13, 2013


Lucien Dubuis - "Design Your Future"Quite often I run into albums that fit into a general category of “close, not quite, but so very glad you tried.”  The general tenor of these albums is that they have their flaws, but they come as the result of creative risk taking.  I love this.  I encourage it.  I often write of such albums, just by way of highlighting the magnificent axis where intelligence and imagination crash together in beautiful symbiosis.

One such album that I frequently return to is Design Your Future, by the Lucien Dubuis Trio & The Spacetet.  There is a playfulness to this album, even as it attempts to barrel over you.  The album possesses a wild abandon, a forward momentum that sends it crashing through walls as it heads off to the horizon of the final note.

Your album personnel: Lucien Dubuis (alto sax, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet), Roman Nowka (bass, guitar), Lionel Friedli (drums), Estelle Beiner (violin), Isabelle Gottraux (viola), Regula Schwab (violin), and Barbara Gasser (cello).

A saxophone trio at its heart, but the addition of a string quartet adds a fascinating dimension to this album that sounds way more European free jazz than it does chamber jazz.  Sometimes, like on album opener “Albumblatt Für Herrn Schprögel,” the strings add a warmth that could melt the iciest saxophone skronks.  And then there are times, like on “Pàrl,” when the strings dramatically enhance the emotional punch already thrown with considerable force when Dubuis tears into a melody on alto sax.  And other times, like on the 4-part “Suite En Eb,” when the strings accentuate the asymmetry of the moving parts, and though everyone sounds to be moving in the same direction, there is an overpowering sensation of wild kinetic energy unbounded by limits or borders.

Dubuis brings a ferocity to the music, regardless of which reed instrument he employs.  But on alto sax, he brings a fuller sound, whereas on clarinets, he expresses himself lithely, letting strings of notes trail off like a wisp of smoke.  On drums, Friedli is the propulsive element, and leads the charge from behind… letting his counterparts run out front, and then following in their wake and using his drums to illustrate the context within which all the craziness occurs.

Nowka in the wildcard of this unit.  He isn’t relegated to any one role, and doesn’t stay in the same place long enough to develop a generality.  Sometimes he’s providing the sweat equity on a thick danceable groove, other times he’s twanging out a boozy accompaniment, and yet other times, he’s lending a hand rhythmically to the drums, melodically to strings & clarinet.  He is as much responsible as any ensemble member for the album’s chameleon nature, switching from wild frenzied jazz to wild frenzied rock ‘n roll, and best of all, to those moments when the two come together and create something that’s high-energy and strangely sublime.

Fun, creative music.  It is easy to imagine it performed with a smile.

Released on Unit Records.

Jazz from Switzerland.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon MP3


November 19, 2013


SWS - "SIWTD"An under-the-radar album that has caught my ear is the debut recording by the septet going by the name of SWS.  Their new release SIWTD provides a little bit of it all… Jazz, chamber, indie-pop, free improv, a general kind of folk music, little hints and whiffs of other influences… and, yet, instead of becoming a hodgepodge of indiscernible traits, they’ve created the roots of a sound that could develop into something original only to them, and beholden to none of the influences that served as ingredients in the first place.

Also, it’s music with the disposition of a warm smile, and a warm smile goes a long way in my book.

Your album personnel:  Baiju Bhatt (violin), Pierre Pothin (tenor & soprano saxes), Francesco Geminiani (tenor sax), Alessandro Hug (vibes), Martin Perret (drums), Sébastian Pittet (electric bass), and Simon Blanc (guitar).

It’s a suite of five pieces, with interludes interspersed throughout.  “Part 1″ gets things started with a little Nordic jazz sleight of hand… entering with the soft murmur of rustic guitar, hinting at the possibility of an album immersed in serenity, but then handing the baton to the saxophones, who lead them into a swirling bit of intensity.

The second part of the suite situates things more sturdily in jazz territory.  The ensemble starts bopping right along.  Bass, drums and sax set the pace while guitar divides the distances.  They maintain a brisk clip throughout, and it contrasts nicely with “Part Three” of the five part suite, which advances with a more determined, careful gait.  The third part also really sheds some light on how this sound might develop as they continue as a working unit.  Violin has a folkloric quality that blends in the loveliest way with the skip and hop of drums and bass, while guitar and vibes send indie-rock notes glittering across the expanse of the tune.  Sax shadows the other players, providing a harmonic lift where necessary, adding some color to the melody when the mood strikes.  An alluring tune.

The fourth part of the suite lends all kinds of intrigue, too, as a softly swaying ballad is repeatedly interrupted by sudden surges of improvisational fury.  And each time the shifts in tempo and volume occur, the enchantment of the one never shatters that of the other.  Captivating, at times.

The last of the five part suite switches between one of post-rock meandering to a finale of straight-ahead post-bop cheerfulness.  The track isn’t as successful as its predecessors, but it does illustrate the ensemble’s willingness to take risks… especially at a point so early in their creative development.

There are three interludes interspersed throughout the album, giving guitar, vibes, and drums the opportunity to get in some peaceable solo action.  The interludes don’t add a whole lot to the entirety of the project, but at the same time, they also don’t interfere with the album’s flow and cohesion.

Overall, it’s a nice little album.  It’s not perfect by any stretch, but the glimpses of originality and the promise of what might come next provide all the reason to start listening today, on the ground floor.

Released on Unit Records.

Jazz from the Lausanne, Switzerland scene.

Available at:  Bandcamp CD & Digital | eMusic MP3 | Amazon MP3