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Thursday, November 10, 2022

Denis Gäbel – The Good Spirits Part 2 (Mons Records, 2022)

By Matty Bannond

Drop your demons at the door and hang your haunting thoughts on the hat stand. For fifty-two minutes, tenor saxophonist Denis Gäbel and his three colleagues are performing a magical ritual to summon only sociable specters and friendly phantoms. Their new album is called, The Good Spirits Part 2. And it’s so good, it’s spooky.

Gäbel is a German musician who has now released seven records as a band leader. This latest album follows The Good Spirits, which came out on the same label in 2018. Both albums feature Clarence Penn on drums. Part 2 welcomes Sebastian Sternal on piano and Reuben Rogers on bass. “I reduced the compositions to just a few ideas,” he says. “To see what happened when we played without giving too many hints – and see what these good spirits bring.”

Those free interactions splash bright new colors onto the palette for this sequel album. 'One' is a track that gathers the musicians together to huddle around a divided form. A three-bar fragment. A five-bar passage. Their contributions rise and then wrap around each other, clash and conspire. “Basically it’s a playground,” Gäbel says. “Everybody’s improvising, together.”

A handful of straight-ahead pieces adjust the atmosphere. The final track, "Old Friend,' begins as a silky ballad. Penn’s drumming infuses punchy energy into Gäbel’s exhausted, faintly whistling saxophone sound. Sternal takes a stumbling solo, each note weighted heavily like words that are difficult to speak. The band falls upwards to reach a faster and funkier finish.

'Mood,' in the middle of the album, opens with a meandering whale-song burst from Gäbel’s tenor. A collective and very gentle noodling follows. Without the push-and-pull of other tracks, the musicians allow their shared voice to drift and linger as they explore a loose pattern of simple cadences.

Warm sentiments and positive vibrations are at the core of this rich musical follow-up. The Good Spirits Part 2 is an album that examines fresh ideas, expresses real emotions and excites the listener at every turn. Gäbel’s multi-faceted playing opens up endless possibilities for shifts of tone, sentiment and direction. Truly, these are very good spirits. Very, very good indeed.

The album is available on CD and via digital streaming here .