Felix Schlarmann – “Counterlife”


Felix Schlarmann - "Counterlife"Counterlife is the compelling new album by drummer Felix Schlarmann.  It features an intoxicating marriage of strong melodies and dreamy harmonics, not unlike the winning formula utilized on Nicolas Moreaux’s Fall Somewhere, an album slotted in the #5 position on this site’s Best of 2013 list.

The pattern throughout this fine recording is one of well-crafted melodies situated right out front, immediately followed by harmonic treatment that blurs the edges, then some tepidly dissonant rhythmic sections leading to, either, further development or simply a return to the opening state of life.  It’s the latter of those two directions where this album is most successful.

Your album personnel: Felix Schlarmann (drums), Lars Dietrich (alto sax), Floris van der Vlugt (alto & soprano saxes, bass clarinet), Franz von Chossy (piano), and Pat Cleaver (double bass).

“Landscapes” features the haunting sounds of bass clarinet working in tandem with the stark cry of alto.  When van der Vlugt and Dietrich pair up to create a moody ambiance, the album shines strong.  They build lines of communication that behave as one dialog and two separate running conversations, both, resulting in an alluring layering of textures.  Even when the intensity rises briefly on this song, it maintains the spell cast in the opening… an effect further strengthened when the duo returns to it prior to the conclusion.

Also strong on this recording are the tiny lullabies and evocative interludes of songs like “Indian Summer,” “Uptown Train,” “Theodor,” and “Theodor (Reprise)”… picturesque musings with brief but potent lifespans.  “Indian Summer” is the longest in duration of these tracks.  It possesses an ambling motion and sleepy melody, one that wakes suddenly in a burst of activity before returning back to a state of repose.

And then there are tracks like “State of Lucidity,” “One For Dave,” and “Counterlife,” in which the song pattern is altered long enough to wander further from the melody, often building to a bigger, more emphatic expressionism that, sometimes, negates much of the lovely, moody atmosphere constructed previously.  The album probably could have done without these gradual rises in intensity and volume… or, at the very least, not present them as frequently.

Pianist von Chossy does an excellent job balancing the intensity with a melancholy accompaniment resonating more strongly than its introspective disposition might otherwise infer.  Some of this effect can be attributed to well-timed cooperation from bassist Cleaver, who switches focus between accentuating Chossy’s key points on piano while also helping Schlarmann set the pace.

But criticisms aside, I find this recording more than compelling to earn a mention on this site, and I’m looking forward to hearing more from this crew.

Released on Challenge Records.

Jazz from the Amsterdam scene.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3