One of the best things of music is that it’s always able to amaze you. Some artists succeed in manipulating conventions and recombining the basic elements of their genre by creating something new that did not exist before. I found this element in three of the Jazz albums I have heard in recent times and which I propose your attention to this post. You’ll find a couple of well know artists (Iyer and Stockhausen) but also a relatively new ensemble (SLOWFOX). What a great year for Jazz has been this one!
Gentle Giants by SLOWFOX (feat. Sebastian Gramss, Hayden Chisholm & Philip Zoubek)
SLOWFOX is the recent jazz project founded by German double bass virtuoso Sebastian Gramss. The project is basically a jazz / avant-garde trio featuring saxophonist Hayden Chisholm and pianist Philip Zoubek. The three skilled musicians have released on last May the second album of the project, named Gentle Giants, which is an excellent testimony of the current status of contemporary chamber music. The beauty of the album relies moslty in the exceptional balance between the beautiful harmonic improvisations and the melodic background that characterize all the songs of the disc. The music of SLOWFOX seems to float perpetually between these two domains, that boundless creativity and the reassuring melodies. The absence of the drums makes this sensation even stronger, and creates an extravagant, intriguing and sometimes hypnotic effect. The artistic concept that has guided the composition of the songs of the album is probably summarized by the quote that is obtained by reading one after the other the titles of the 15 songs: “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” (probably to be accredited to Friedrich Nietzsche)
A few selected tracks from Gentle Giants, taken from the bandcamp page of the album:
Far From Over by Vijay Iyer Sextet
One of the most influential figures of the current Jazz scene, American pianist Vijay Iyer is also one of the most experimental and prolific composers of these days. After having achieved a remarkable success with the two great – and relatively “standard” – albums released for the ACT label in 2009 (Historicity) and in 2013 (Accelerando), he’s been involved in wide range of heterogenous musical projects which explored territories well beyond conventional Jazz. Iyer’s last work, the beautiful Far From Over, apparently marks a sort of return to the more usual sounds and structure of Jazz music, but in reality it conceals an absolutely modern and courageous reading of the old canons of this musical genre. From a purely formal point of view, in fact, we find in this album a collection of compositions which correspond to the typical structures of hard bop, swing, funky-jazz or avant-garde. The approach to the music, however, is completely innovative and sees the artis and his five skilled bandmates taking corageous paths which unpredictably diverge from the convention. In some songs of the album, partly because of the composition of the ensemble (two saxophones, one flugehorn, piano, bass and double drums) and partly because of the peculiar way of playing of the musicians, I felt sensations and emotions similar to those I had the first time I listened Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka. That’s another milestone for Jazz, another great album by Vijay Iyer.
Far into the Stars by Markus Stockhausen
One year after the release of beautiful and poetical album Alba, German trumpeter and composer Markus Stockhausen comes back with another ethereal release. Far into the Stars, the last of a long discography of albums, is a further testimony to the artist’s ability of creating delicate and fascinating atmsopheres where no sound is ever dissonant with the former one, and all the instruments works organically for the definition of engaging and emotional layers of melodies. The style of Stockhausen is often tending towards the sonorities and musicality typical of classical music and this album does not deviate from this trend. The songs of the album are soft, gentle but still permeated by an underlying tension. This is another precious gem in the collection of records released by a great representative of modern Jazz.