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Monday, May 17, 2010

Nobu Stowe - Confusion Bleue (Soulnote, 2010) *****

Some years ago, I showed my admiration for Nobu Stowe's "Hommage to Klaus Kinski", a kind of combination of post-bop, and free improvisation, yet very lyrical but full of freedom. The same concept is used here, for their new album, and you can easily add "Bitches' Brew" and early seventies free jazz as additional influences. The band is slightly altered, with Nobu Stowe on acoustic grand piano (Yamaha G-III), Wurlitzer electric piano, glockenspiel, “Nanbu-Tetsu” bell, Ross Bonadonna on guitars and alto saxophone, Tyler Goodwin on 5-string double-bass, Ray Sage on drums. Lee Pembleton as sound wizard needs to be explicitly mentioned.

 With the exception of Bill Evans' "Blue In Green", all nine pieces are fully improvised, yet they sound as if they were played by a band with a common vision, attentive to structural changes in the music, like mood, rhythm, harmonic shifts, density and intensity. This is not a free-for-all, but gradually built-up joint compositions, growing organically from the initial steps, out of which a story emerges, that unfolds, with plot twists and new characters entering and leaving.

The album is set up quite suite-like, with pieces moving into one another, interspersed with shorter, usually calmer tracks, with more obvious electronic effects. "Premier Mouvement" is built around acoustic piano lyricism, quite melodic, almost impressionistic, full of drama, gradually getting denser and denser, more and more intense, and the quality of the band can be judged by the almost telepathic finale, when the full storm subsides into a gentle breeze.  "Deuxième Mouvement" has clear influences from the electric Miles, with pounding drums, sparse, almost percussive guitar sounds, manic electric piano, yet it all flows, it all sounds warm and welcome.

"Troisième Mouvement" is darker, gloomy, eery too, especially because of the pounding piano, drums and bass, chased by weird background electronics, like you've entered the realm of the unknown and the unexpected. Without shifting the mood, and maintaining the intensity of the previous piece, "Intermède 3" offers gentle piano playing with arco bass, and subtle percussive effects. Bandonna picks up his sax for the "Quatrième Mouvement", adding expressive power to the dense sound waves that are created by the rest of the band. The "Epilogue" is built around a shifting repetitive piano phrase, almost classical, but with rhythmic interruptions, with electronic counterpoint and with the other musicians seeming to come from another space, evolving into almost boogie, then bop, yet at a higher level, subtle, compelling, then crashing completely into electronic white noise. It is absolutely hypnotic.

It is hard to describe, but you get more musical ideas and influences in one album here, than in a dozen other, combined to organically forge a musical universe that is coherent, full of drama and cinematic evolution and story-telling. It is not about the expression of the individual supported by fellow musicians, although you get that too, but a real collective and powerful sound sculpture. It is quite ambitious in its concept, but the end result is stunning. Don't miss it.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef