The Kandinsky Effect – Synesthesia
(Cuneiform Records Rune 358. CD Review by Rob Mallows)
The Kandinsky Effect – sax player Warren Walker, bassist Gaël Petrina and drummer Caleb Dolister – is a trans-atlantic band based in both New York and Paris. It’s been going since 2007, originally as the Warren Walker Trio; then it became the Kandinsky Trio, named after the Russian-born abstract painter, before finally adding ‘Effect’ on the end to avoid a clash with a long-running chamber ensemble. However, this 11-track album is only their second studio release, following an eponymous album on SNP records in 2010.
In adding numerous pedal effects and loop sounds, and power rock sensibilities alongside the traditional sax, bass and drums trio set-up, the group adds a new spark to the standard jazz trio format. Walker’s use of effects on his sax means that, rather than just playing the head and solo, he’s able to comp and add chords to support his band mates. In doing so, he certainly does bring something new to the sax as a melodic lead.
The idea at the heart of many of the tracks on this album is a readiness to take a rhythmic theme or motif and make the most of it, using metre changes and fluid comping to squeeze plenty of juice out of each theme. On opening track Johnny Utah there’s enough here to show the band intends to do things differently and challenge the listener.
Some tracks are angular and challenging; others, like Cusba, have a more conventional form, and ease off on the effects to pleasing effect, letting Walker’s sax playing demonstrate what a fine player he is. Petrina’s bass, when fed through his effects, comes forward in the mix – such as on Brighton – and adds a funky, ‘grimey’ feel.
What to think of the album as a whole? It’s sparky, full of brio, a bit weird, harmonically challenging with a textural warmth. I liked the readiness to combine fierce grooves and electronic tones and to push a melody to its limits. In the mould of groups like The Roller Trio, The Kandinsky Effect demonstrate a willingness to transcend the limitations of the trio format. They also demonstrate the confidence and slickness that come from years of playing together.
But in the end it didn’t really excite as much as I hoped it would. Maybe it’s my failing, and that’s the point of being cutting-edge – you are creating the future ordinary, it’s up to the listener to catch up, and I’m a little behind the pace. I hope so, as these guys and other new, adventurous and plugged-in bands are the future of jazz.