It has been said that jazz is a voracious musical language, eating all kinds of other music to serve its hybrid nature as a mix of European and African elements in cosmopolitan America, the country where it was born, eventually to be spread to the world. But we have to understand this with some nuances. As a genre with its own more or less obeyed grammar and linguistic rules, we can be conscious of these ingredients not because they are effectively played or even suggested, but because their presence is felt as something implicit, like the ghost in the machine. With improvisation as its matrix, a primary virtue of jazz is that it absorbs and makes use of various influences without copying. Conversely, a fusion genre like jazz-rock fails for relying on the obvious, rather than the power of the intuitive. The musicians on this fantastic CD, recorded live at the Kongsberg Jazzfest, are a good example of the former scenario: they’re all inspired jazz musicians, and at the same time all of them use other sound expressions in their respective careers. We can even say that they are more accomplished jazz players because they have also those other dedications.
Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bass player Ingebrigt Håker Flaten know how to rock, as we hear in the last Scorch Trio record, Luggumt, with all its metal energy, where they interpret the White Stripes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and PJ Harvey; with Mats Gustafsson’s The Thing; or kicking ass in partnership with the rock band Cato Salsa Experience, with Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” serving as the basis for their jamming. In addition to that, we can recognize from the way they understand the world of sound and in the voicings they use a strong influence of contemporary “classical” music, and of more avant-garde, experimental practices. Some of the things we hear Nilssen-Love do in Townorchestrahouse could have been composed by Xenakis. But in fact these pieces have not even been composed: they are all improvised and they are his personal vision, cherished by the likes of Peter Brotzmann or Ken Vandermark.
Similarly, pianist Sten Sandell is in superb form in these recordings, always reminding us of his other explorations in music, using sampler and electronics, Tibetan throat singing, and the Indian harmonium, in addition to the piano, in contexts that vary from a kind of neo-progressive rock with folk colors to post-Henry Cowell New Music. His piano playing might have Cecil Taylor as a reference, but it is more universal, constantly traveling in and out of jazz.
Evan Parker is the prototype of the kind of musician I’m talking about: he’s one of the biggest names in freely improvised music, in a plurality of forms, from his more conventional trio with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton to the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, and from his collaborations with the “post-post-modernist” project Spring Heel Jack to those with the dub of Jah Wobble. But he’s also a complete jazz virtuoso of the tenor and soprano saxophones.
This is jazz played by a quartet of incredible musicians who do not play jazz only, and this is felt from beginning to end. The future of jazz courses through this record, with its fresh vocabulary and broadened frontiers. It is played by Europeans, not Americans, but that is the consequence of the globalization of culture in the first years of the 21st century: everyone in the planet is called to renew our common heritage, and the truth is that jazz belongs now to the public, international domain. Have a good listen, wherever you are.
Rui Eduardo Paes