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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Naked Wolf - Ahum (Clean Feed, 2016) ***½

When Charles Mingus released his classic album Ah Um almost fifty years ago it was perceived as homage to the elders of jazz. In a similar way, the Amsterdam-based international quintet Naked Wolf’s sophomore album follows Mingus legacy. Not only because of its title or a song that quotes a seminal composition from Mingus’ album. More due to the untamed, creative manner that these Naked Wolf blends the free jazz spirit with catchy and open song structures, twisting the eccentric Zappa meets Captain Beefheart humor with raw, primitive riffs and balancing between free-improvisation and fragile lyricism.

Naked Wolf was formed by ex-The Ex's acoustic bass player Luc Ex, the only native Dutch in this group, and features Australian trumpeter-vocalist Felicity Provan, who also sings in a combination of commanding phrasing and a spoiled-melodic Australian accent; Finnish guitarist-vocalist Mikael Szafirowski, whose also sings but his voice sounds as surfacing from inside a dark and smoky bar; Brazilian reeds player Yedo Gibson, and Austrian drummer Gerri Jäger. All five musicians contributed songs to Ahum, two with the help of former vocalist Seb el Zin.

Naked Wolf’s versatile, open interplay enables the quintet to jump fast between different, eccentric poles. Naked Wolf feels at home with the playful and dadaist “Wugiwoo”; the urgent and dramatic “School Der Poëzie”, based on the poem of Dutch avant-garde poet and political activist Lucebert; the chaotic, punkish roll of “Trust Don’t Rye”;  the poetic, spoken-word of Provan on “Coloured Gold” or the catchy “Herrie van de Schonenberg”, where Provan shouts for and seeks a “trick to insanity”. All these pieces enjoy enough room for expressive, immediate solos, mainly by Provan, Gibson and Szafirowski.

Other instrumental pieces like “Untuna but Still Shark”, the funky “Nudge” and the title-piece stress Naked Wolf affinity for free-improvisations and experimenting with free-formed, fast-shifting settings. “Erik Wolfy” may summarize best Naked Wolf aesthetics. It borrows the catchy riff from Mingus’ “Fables Of Faubus” (from the Ah Um album), letting Gibson and Provan pay the obvious debt to Mingus’ close partner Eric Dolphy influential sound, but Naked Wolf charges the catchy theme with tons of electricity and punkish-funky rhythm.