CD review

Röllin-Morgenthaler-Ruben – Mister Z

Röllin-Morgenthaler-Ruben – Mister Z
(Between the Lines BTLOHR71248. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

Jazz, funk, rock; guitar, trombone, drums. Röllin-Morgenthaler-Ruben strip away the layers of big band funk to reveal the clean outlines of the trio. The tracks are tautly written and arranged, with free form funk and jazz filling the spaces between the sassy riffs.

Swiss guitarist Urs Röllin and trombonist Robert Morgenthaler have worked together as a duo since 2007, and Estonian drummer Tanel Ruben joins them on this new album. Röllin has written three pieces, the album opening with his Hello Mr Z. The strong guitar/drum riff shifts across the funky beat, punctuated by free-ish laughing trombone, like Joe Bowie’s Defunkt in minimalist mode. The guitar solo is rock-edged, with Sonny Sharrock-like distortion, earthed by gruff trombone riffs, the instruments springing away from each other. The powerful drum solo never loses the groove. Number 3 invokes Shinola-era Scofield, with lovely wavy lines and harmonics. The volume pedal eases the chords in, as the brushes flutter alongside the guitar/trombone theme. The hopping groove of Fuchsgang is heavy with deep trombone and guitar. Quirky unison riffs dart in and out. A loose Latin feel develops behind the mournful trombone solo; then the guitar splashes dissonant notes on to a backcloth of electronic loops.

The track that sounds most like a standard is Ruben’s Kas Tahad ma Jutustan Laulust (‘Do you want me to talk about the song?’ according to Google). It’s a mellow jazz waltz that hints at Horace Silver’s Peace, the flowing melody thoughtfully negotiated by Morgenthaler.

Morgenthaler’s own compositions have strong grooves. The Monolith’s eerie creaks are stalked by a menacing, looped, deep minor trombone line. There are lightning flashes of free guitar, and fulsome drums that merge into the unison head out. Swear It’s New Orleans-style drumming develops a riffy groove in 11; the trombone solo is gutsy and free. The lumbering squelchy grooves of Space Takes Place use looped trombone splurges as a backdrop to wah wah explorations. The guitar has Derek Bailey-like rushes of unexpected notes. Getting Closer has a punching single note head; the trombone creates chord outlines in its melodic solo. There’s a reverb-drenched guitar solo, with John Lee Hooker-like bluesiness and a rock kick. The final track isn’t as Smooth as its title suggests – a convoluted, Middle Eastern unison theme takes harmonic minor twists and turns over Latin drumming. Fine, free drumming follows the gravelly trombone.

The intricate arrangements make this album sound as if there are far more instruments than three. It’s full of contemporary jazz, rock, blues, improvisation – and a lot of fun.

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