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Monday, October 14, 2019

Angles 9 - Beyond Us (Clean Feed, 2019) ****½

By Stef

You can wonder about the value of a review for an album that all fans are already aware of and cannot but appreciate. Since the band's first album in 2008, Angles have kept the same unique high level of performance, adding members from a sextet to a nonet over the years, with a trio in between. 

The current nonet are Martin Küchen on alto and tenor saxophones, Eirik Hegdal on baritone saxophone, Goran Kajfes on cornet, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Mats Äleklint on trombone, Mattias Ståhl on vibraphone, Alexander Zethson on piano, Johan Berthling on double bass and Andreas Werliin on drums. 

At the first tones of the album, you already feel that this is good. The theme is as infectious as before, the band moves as one, the vibes offer a refreshing contrast to the powerful horns, the rhythm section including the piano drive the action forward relentlessly. As said before, this is not music to be heard through headphones, but to be enjoyed in a live setting, where you are as the audience close to the action, if not part of the action. This is marching band music, this is street music, designed to be close to everyday sentiments of joy and sadness, and a little indignation to for the way things unfortunately are. This is communal music, to be enjoyed collectively. It is also political music, designed to rally the forces of the people to overthrow the unjust rulers of our society. 

But since headphones are the next best thing, you are sucked up in the action, and you feel part of something grander and more significant. 

Despite the fact that this is the band's seventh album (taking all configurations into account), the musical vision that Martin Küchen developed from the start is still entirely intact. And yes, it would be easy to identify this ensemble's sound in a blind test, even if it would be hard to say from which album, because they have stayed so close to their core concept. 

"U(n)happiez Marriages" starts with beautiful piano, in a slow very boppish mode and respective harmonic structure, leading to yet again a wonderful theme, sad and moaning, recognisable and yet so inventive, as the backbone for heartrending solo work by the trombone and the trumpet. But the even more wonderful is the freedom of all musicians to colour outside the lines, even when participating in the theme, leading to a weird sense of controlled freedom, which sets this wide apart from any form of traditional jazz, as if the imperfections and the deviations make it more real and authentic. 

"Samar & The Egyptian Winter" is dedicated to the Syrian author and journalist Samar Yazbek, and by extension refers to the refers to the Arab Spring that has been quenched by the Sissi government in Egypt and by Assad in Syria. It starts with a sad solo sax intro, leading into a dramatic theme, accentuated by the vibes. Drums and bass lay the perfect ground work for the theme played by trumpet, cornet and baritone, tearful and sad, then for the cornet to improvise over calm piano chords, arco bass and it becomes even sadder, and the when the entire band starts again with the theme, the emotions the music evokes and the empathy you can feel with the Egyptian people are brought to their zenith.  

"Against the Permanent Revolution" starts with a piano and baritone sax intro, sonically reminiscent of the Ethiopian music of Mulate Astatke, for an incredibly exuberant and jubilant piece of marching revolutionaries. The title refers to a term - permantent revolution - used by Marx and later by Trotsky to describe how the proletariat should take over power without any compromise for opposing views. What the title actually means, we should ask Küchen himself. 

The album ends with "Mali", a high energy, uptempo piece, driven by Werliin's kinetic drumming, and leading into a wild theme, that could be the soundtrack for a 70s action movie (but then of the better kind). It is a maddening romp with unexpected changes and stops, including a two-sax vamp that brings the audience to shouts, after which the other musicians join in utter chaos and according to unknown principles and directions ... the audience cheers when piano and trumpet take over and again the other instruments join, first chaotically, then the whole massive sound coalesces again into the main dubbel-layered theme, ending with a massive stop to the enthusiastic cheers of the audience. 

The performance was recorded live August 25th, 2018 at the Zomer Jazz Fiets Tour, The Netherlands.

Fun and sadness guaranteed, together with a good level of admiration for the compositional power and musicianship.