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Thursday, January 30, 2020

Petter Eldh – Presents Koma Saxo (We Jazz, 2019) ****

Swedish, Berlin-based double bass player-composer-producer Petter Eldh, known from the trio of British pianist Django Bates and Norwegian drummer Gard Nilssen’s Acoustic Unity, has an original vision how futurist, free jazz can and should sound. His potent, new working quintet Koma Saxo – featuring fellow-Swedish tenor sax players Otis Sandsjö (witb whom Eldh collaborated recently in the recording of vocalist Lucia Cadotsh’s Speak Low Renditions, Yellowbird, 2017), Jonas Kullhammar, Finnish alto, baritone sax player Mikko Innanen, and German drummer and long-term comrade Christian Lillinger (Eldh played in the drummer’s Open Form for Society, Plaist, 2019, and both recorded with the Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler the album Punkt Vrt. Plastik, Intakt, 2018) – was recorded live during the quintet's debut performance in December 2018 at We Jazz Festival in Helsinki and a day later at Finnvox Studios, Helsinki. In the post-production phase, Eldh edited and mixed the raw live and studio material with additional recordings of himself in at the Galatea Studios, Berlin into a jam packed 36 minutes.

Koma Saxo has indeed a unique, surprising sound of its own, far from the purist-acoustic versions of free jazz ensembles. We Jazz describes this sound as “a tightly-knitted posse of jazz assassins on the run. At times, the pieces fall gloriously apart, just enough in order to be ripe to put back together again.” Another valid description: imagine two restless groups, each with five charismatic leaders but with a very limited attention span, keep colliding with each other, but with a distinct, subversive sense of driving swing. O.K. Maybe, swing on steroids.

This kind of sonic vision could lead to a total chaos or manic freak-out. But the musical imagination of all the five musicians, their fine conceptions of free music, risk-taking and anarchistic humor, as well as their deep knowledge of the legacy of free jazz, and especially the Nordic one, and the inventive production skills of Eldh guarantee a joyful and invigorating listening experience. Eldh and Lillinger form a powerful and sharp rhythm section who move the music with elegant, authoritative fluidity. The front line of the sax player charges the aggressive rhythmic pulse with delicious melodic ideas and and emphatic, cleverly layered interplay.

Koma Saxo bursts with the brief, schizophrenia of “Kali Koma” that sounds as a compact version of post-bop hip-hop. "Ostron Koma" injects some fast, soulful blows to the dense formula. But the real revelation are the inspired adaptations of seventies classic pieces by legendary Finnish drummer -“Cyclope Dance” by Matti Oiling and the majestic “Byågz” by Edward Vesala. The driving force of Eldh is captured best on “Koma Tema” and spices “Koma Sport” with Middle-Eastern” themes. Lillinger contributes his challenging compositional ideas to “Blumer” while Kullhammar enjoys experiencing the hyper-swing on his “Fanfarum For Komarum II” and Innanen insists on exploring unison, melodic lines by the saxists frontine on his “LH 440”. This album ends with exceptional, moving cover of Swedish composer-songwriter Olle Adolphson “Så Rinner Tiden Bor” (The Time is Running in Swedish).

Listen to the future. It sounds promising.