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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Oliwood – Euphoria (Enja, 2017) ****½

By Chris Haines

Earlier on in the year this album seemed to slip out quite unobtrusively on the Enja label, without any fuss or hype. Having heard some snippets and the expectation that it promised I soon ordered myself a copy. Now some several months and many listens later I am still as convinced as when I first heard it that this is one of the best releases I have heard this year. The trio is Oliver Steidle on drums (Der Rote Bereich, Brötzmann, Klima Kalima to name but a few), Frank Gratkowski on alto sax (having played with Achim Kaufmann, Simon Nabatov, Hamid Drake amongst others), and Kalle Kalima on guitar (Klima Kalima, Johnny La Marama, Momentum Impakto).

In the sleeve notes Steidle briefly talks of the compositional approach to the album amongst all the different projects he has been involved in over the years, but highlighting that the one thing all of these other musics have had in common is improvisation, which for him is of the utmost importance. This is clearly borne out by the music, which has clear structures within each of the tracks but also, as he suggests, balances the material generated by pre-composed concepts and that of improvisation.

The opening angular and nicely syncopated melody of ‘Octave Medley II’, reminiscent of progressive bands such as King Crimson, and Thinking Plague, acts as a regular motive within the freer passages that open up within the music, with tempo and pulse moving between strict measures and non-time, whilst the punctuations or ‘hits’ disguise and displace the underlying beat. The ‘octave medley’ tag being a theme across the first part of the album, with ‘III’ being seemingly underpinned by a rather scatty yet mechanical sounding programmed piano sequence that the group then responds to in a free and slightly chaotic way, whilst the very short ‘Octave Melody I’ is just the sequencer track. I wonder if these sequenced pieces are examples of the templates that Steidl used for composing the pieces which the group then picked-up and ran with? If not, the three pieces still act as if there is an uncovering of the layers of music, moving from a complex and full group sound (Octave Medley II) to a stripped back sequenced fragment (Octave Medley I). Moving on from these pieces ‘Epitasis’ starts with a similar angular melody played in unison between guitar and sax, before it breaks down through micro-dialogues, found amongst the smallest melodic fragments and exchanging at lightning speed before eventually opening out into an open arena of sounds in a free improv vein. The overall structure being somewhat of a reverse mirror image (going back through similar events in reverse order) with a small lighter coda added on at the end. ‘Der Diebische Elst’ starts with an African-like pattern on the guitar, in both the pitches used and the timbre, before Gratkowski’s free-blowing sax comes in bringing with it a change from something sounding not a million-miles away from a Brotherhood of Breath piece, which it also ends with, to a high-energy cartoon-esque chase. ‘Sissy Melting Snow’ opens with Kalima’s guitar sounding like a musical saw (sustained e-bow type sound), which becomes the counterpoint to the lead sax line in what is ostensibly a modern instrumental ballad. The last track ‘Fat Bear of Korea’, the less said the better about the possible political connotations of this one, which musically comes to a rocky and solid ending.

As a power trio within the free jazz world, it cannot but help remind us of Bjorkenheim’s work with the Scorch Trio and his newly invested Triad, however the focus of the work is at times very much a metric one, not in some clever poly-math way, but in a much more organic ebb and flow of time – firm and solid one moment before free and pulseless the next. Rhythm is important to this album and there is an up-beat momentum that is carried throughout the tracks. If you like your free jazz a bit ‘rocky’ then this may just be the album you’ve been waiting for this year.


4 comments:

Martin Schray said...

Nice review of a great album, Chris. Steidle is underrated, when you see him live he doesn't seem to be really relaxed but actually he's just concentrated. He's improved his style continually over the last few years. Moreover, he has a great sense of humour, as you can see in the names he's chosen for his bands: Soko Steidle, Die Dicken Finger etc.

zuckerwurzel said...

the influence of Ornette`s Prime Time is obvious...

Chris Haines said...

Thanks for the comments!

Armando Moneta said...

Good review of a great musical effort, arrived today in the mail!