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Friday, October 14, 2011

Kris Wanders - Mani Neumeier Quintet - Taken By Surprise (Not Two, 2011) ****

By Paul Acquaro

The Kris Wanders and Mani Neumeier Quintet's Taken by Surprise is an excursion into free but highly melodic improvisation, and Wanders and Brett Evans' tandem tenor saxophones on the the impassioned "Oxymoron" is an inspiring opener. The quintet is rounded out by Rory Brown on bass, Yusuke Akai on guitar and Neumeier on the drums. The rhythm section is top notch with Akai's guitar providing dry, clean, rhythmic and probing accompaniment, sometimes comping chords and other times bursting out with appropriately felt tonal clusters. However, it's Neumeier's drums that acts as a real connective element here, as much a lead voice as a rhythmic engine with plenty of pulsating energy and responsive playing. Brown's bass is almost an agent provocateur at times, often falling back in the mix creating a sonorous foundation, but appearing at times with abrasive and fiery accompaniment pushing the other players into ever more dangerous territory.

The songs run the gamut of engaging moods and modalities. Approximately halfway through the title track, "Taken by Surprise", I was. The previous ten minutes prior had been an intense improv with Wanders and Evans going full bore, then the group dropped out, leaving the bass and guitar alone together to create a melodic stew. The effect was palpable, lightening up the space and setting up the next slowly building climax. The final song "Not On Radio" begins with a what seems to be a somewhat composed beginning, with the guitar tripling up with the saxes. Like the other tunes, it builds into a fierce and complex group statement.

Taken By Surprise is a rich, energetic and interesting album. Over the course of the three long improvs (all around 20 minutes a piece), the interplay of this group is quite impressive and each twist and turn of the recording is rewarding.

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