Album review

Shake Stew – ‘Heat’

Shake Stew – Heat

(Traumton 4706CD. Album review by Alison Bentley)

The Heat shimmers off this hypnotic album: it’s simultaneously exciting and soothing as three horns play over African rhythms, with two drummers and two bassists. It was difficult during various lockdowns to get these seven German and Austrian musicians together, but the album was finally recorded over 5 days in the beautiful Cicaleto Studio in Arezzo, Italy.

Compositions are by bassist Lukas Kranzelbinder, and the peaceful Unmight moves in with Aaron Copland-like long notes in haunting harmonies. The grooves circle underneath like a kalimba. With two drummer/percussionists (Nikolaus Dolp, Herbert Pirker) and double basses (Oliver Potratz and  Kranzelbinder), it’s a powerful sound. The horns’ free soloing echoes the percussion grooves in glorious squalls, ending in a Moroccan chaabi-inspired feel. I Am the Big Bad Wolf spans two tracks with a driving afrobeat influence, and a time signature that seems to shift back and forth. There’s perhaps a Dudu Pukwana influence over the agitated percussion. The Outro holds the same groove with atmospheric solos and Pharoah Sanders-esque trance-like ululations.

The heartbeat of I Wear My Heart on the Outside springs from the ostinato bass: drum-free, the rhythm is created by tension between basses and horns. (“For me the most beautiful thing is to play one thing… and build something up,” Kranzelbinder has said.) The minor theme on breathy tenor (Johannes Schleiermacher) is fleshed out by the other horns- Mario Rom’s powerful trumpet blues and hints of Jan Gabarek in Astrid Wiesinger’s keening tone.

Heat is another two-part tune. The Intro builds the thrill with tuned percussion, (Dolp and Pirker play log drums) and the second part features Kranzelbinder on guembri, a Moroccan bass lute. Complex afrobeat grooves drive behind intertwined horn lines and free form sax solos. Lucidity blurs the edges with “hallucinogenic” reverb, and the horns sound like they’re drifting in from a dreamlike distance. Rom’s eerie trumpet sound recalls Miles Davis and also his favourite Ambrose Akinmusire. Wake Up and Be Gone has a looser, almost calypso rhythm; the solo themes are folded up inside the overlapping harmonies of the horns. Oh Captain, My Captain! with its Intro keeps the elegiac mood of Whitman’s poem: atmospheric flute harmonies over bass drone till an unfettered funky backbeat emerges. There are shades of Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya as sax breaks into the low breathy flute solo with urgent freedom, sheets of cymbals and strummed bass.

“I like to have something defined not by the notes but by the energy,” says Kranzelbinder; the notes are uplifting and beautiful and the energy is compelling.

LINK: Heat on Bandcamp

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