(Losen Records. CD review by Rob Mallows)
Three is a powerful integer. According to De La Soul, it’s ‘magic’. It forms a stable and strong geometric figure, the triangle. It’s the number of primary colours. For one billion Chinese, it’s lucky. In jazz, it’s the purest form of line-up – drums, bass and third instrument of your choice – and the source of many great tunes, because with such limited components, there’s nowhere for any musician to hide.
In the case of this album, that third pillar is guitar. The band comprises Per Mathisen on electric and acoustic bass, the UK’s own Gary Husband on drums (my favourite drummer) and super Swedish guitarist, Ulf Wakenius. It’s a different line up from Edition 1, but the overall concept remains: cover all the musical bases (here jazz-rock, chamber jazz, swing, ballad, blues), play with abandon, and make the most of just the three instruments.
The musical fulcrum is Mathisen. He was, the liner notes say, inspired by Herbie Hancock [who wouldn’t be?] and his quote, “It’s not exclusive, but inclusive, which is the whole spirit of jazz”. Mathisen is generous with the space given to including the other two players, but you never lose sight of the fact that it’s his album. And that’s fine with me. Per Mathisen’s a super player: not overly technical or flamboyant to extreme (like, say, Victor Wooten), he’s very much in the pocket, but stretches that pocket out as big as it can possibly be.
So, what about the music? It’s a Dairy Milk selection box of an album: plenty of different flavours and tastes of chocolate to please everyone, but with one or two that you might leave in the tray. On the whole, the mix of compositions is well chosen and most of the tracks challenge the players and provide a platform for them to show why they’re on top of their game.
First track The Blues Boy is pretty self explanatory, and – per the above analogy – this would be my cracknel of a chocolate selection. It’s a good, punchy blues tune, but blues tunes are generally the tracks I tend to skip. Second cut One of a Kind is moodier, starting off with some lovely bass harmonics from Mathisen and super cymbal work from Husband, the simple descending motif offering both cool and warm moods. The unison playing between Mathisen and Wakenius works well.
16 knödeln (16 dumplings) is anything but suet-stodge. This is all about the topography of Wakenius’ guitar playing: scratchy, whiny, di Meola-like in its runs. Essentially, lots of notes, and all in the right order! Husband and Mathisen, on acoustic, just stand back and support and let Wakenius go, like a wind-up child’s toy. The Spin brings things down to walking pace, starting with an expressive acoustic solo from Mathisen that’s technically brilliant but just short enough to not outstay its welcome. This ballad is all about Husband’s lovely cymbal work, particularly on the ride – like playing jazz in the rain on a tin roof, the drums here are constant, refreshingly light, and invigorating; you can forget at times the other two are playing.
Lines for Oscar is a paean to Oscar Peterson (one can surmise from the snap of the melody), and this is breakneck swing, and all three survive without a scratch. Wrapped Around Your Finger has a Return to Forever/Weather Report seventies fusion feel, with Mathisen’s fretless Dilian Obretenov bass giving a great impression of Jaco Pastorius sound. This is warm, gooey bass as sticky as Lyle’s Golden Syrup.
Invasion lets Mathisen just show off and get down with the jazz-funk-fusion vibe, as Wakenius goes all McLaughlin. What Might Have Been is a light ballad – the caramel creme of this selection box (perfectly tasty, but not your first pick) – and it’s saved by Wakenius’ sparse playing. Alphabet Soup signs off the album with a choppy jazz-rock number, all distortion and a solid beat from Husband, that spells out power, with plenty of letters to spare
Bass-led albums are catnip for this reviewer and while I wouldn’t say I was bowled over by the whole album, let’s say by the end of it I’d enjoyed more than my fair share of sweet treats, and was thoroughly sated.