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Thursday, February 1, 2024

Jim & The Schrimps - Ain’t No Saint (Intakt, 2023)

By Lee Rice Epstein

As a jazz drummer hitting high school and college in the ’90s, Jim Black’s playing was a revelation to me. With saxophonists Chris Speed, Andrew D’Angelo, Tim Berne, and Ellery Eskelin, Black helped make jazz sound exciting and modern. And 30 years on, he is still making some of the best, most addictive jazz music around. On his latest for Intakt, recorded and mixed last summer and fall in Berlin, Ain’t No Saint sets a high bar for sheer delight.

A two-horn front line with bass and drums rhythm section is a bit like a homecoming, calling back to earlier groups like Endangered Blood, Human Feel, Yeah No, and Bloodcount. Black’s assembled an international quartet, with tenor saxophonist Julius Gawlik and bassist Felix Henkelhausen from Germany, and Danish alto saxophonist Asger Nissen, young players who cook at a blazing temperature. “The Set-up (for Baikida Carroll)” is a sly opener, simultaneously inviting and deceiving. From there, the band blasts through a tight set of originals. Unlike a typical jazz blowing session, which can overstay their welcome with lengthy, middling solos, The Schrimps play with an excited fervor, not frantic but fierce.

A handful of tracks, like “Snaggs” and “Crashbash,” swing with tight grooves from Henkelhausen and Black and addictive melodies from Nissen and Gawlik. Others showcase airy group improvisations, like “Bellsimmer,” which gradually morphs into a heavy outro, Henkelhausen’s bass pulsing and shoving its way into focus. Ain’t No Saint closes with the two lengthiest songs, “The Once” and “Bowerdfield.” Back to back, they allow the group to end in a slightly more abstract vein than the bulk of the album. On “Bowerdfield,” Gawlik starts in the upper register, with Nissen performing elegant leaps and pirouettes. It’s an intriguingly open-ended conclusion, the group leaving the stage even though they clearly have more to say. Let’s hope we get to hear it soon.

Jim Black & The Schrimps, 2021, live at Jazzwerkstatt Peitz:

Jim Black & The Shrimps - live @ Festungsturm | JAZZWERKSTATT PEITZ from on Vimeo.


Richard said...

One of my favorite albums of last year, nice to see it get a review here.