Alexander Beets Big Sounds (Maxanter 2021)

NEW RELEASE – ALEXANDER BEETS

Beets blows hot and husky.

Alexander Beets - Big Sounds

Personnel

Alexander Beets (tenor saxophone), Ellister van der Molen (trumpet #1, 2, 6, 7, 10 & 11), Miguel Rodriguez (piano #1, 2, 6, 7, 10 & 11), Sebastiaan van Bavel (piano #3-5, 8 & 9), Marius Beets (bass), Tim Hennekes (drums #1, 2, 6, 7, 10 & 11), Sven Rozier (drums #3-5, 8 & 9)

Recorded

on December 28 & 29, 2020 and March 25, 2021 at Studio Smederij, Zeist

Released

as Maxanter 74618 in 2021

Track listing

Blues For The Legends
Brother Hank
A Love That Never Ends
Here’s That Rainy Day
The Look Of Love
A Night That Lasts Forever
June Bug
I Love You
The Man I Love
Diplodocus
What Happened To The Days


You can’t be like Gene Ammons, Ike Quebec, Stanley Turrentine, Hank Mobley, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Ben Webster for the simple fact that the styles of these classic tenor men reflected their times. Their styles reflected times fraught with racism and segregation and brimming with the joyful catharsis of the blues; on a more prosaic note, were born of rowdy bars and sleazy BBQ joints and union scale and the occasional jail sentence. They were the underground.

But you can get inspired by them and transform your passion into a personal voice. This is the prerequisite for a successful straightforward jazz endeavor, which by nature isn’t progressive but nonetheless valid. All around the world, fans enjoy good-time live jazz entertainment. Besides, who is going to learn youngsters where jazz comes from if no one plays the standards and the blues? Perhaps it was this sentiment that prompted Beets to byline the title of his latest record, Big Sounds, with “forgotten tenor heroes of the past”.

There’s no doubt that Alexander Beets has found a personal voice and while Big Sounds isn’t treading new ground, it is a thoroughly entertaining set of standards and original blues and hard bop compositions.

Beets is brother of acclaimed bassist Marius and renowned pianist Peter. An interview from the three brothers with Jazz Nu way back in January 1996 gives a clue about Beets’s pragmatic outlook. The article describes the work of the Ph.D business science as the band’s PR representative. “First and foremost, I’m a musician and consequently look at the industry as an artist, but that takes nothing away from the fact that I love it when my car is gassed up.”

Beets is both tenor saxophonist and jazz organizer. He holds various managerial positions and is currently the director of the Amersfoort World Jazz Festival. You can see him jammin’ after hours with the festival’s finest in his typically down-to-earth style.

(From l. to r.; Beets Brothers, Marius, Peter and Alexander; Beets and Judith Nijland; New York Round Midnight Orchestra, Rolf Delfos, Ellister van der Molen, Ben van der Dungen and Alexander Beets)

On record, Beets sounds similar as on stage, no pyrotechnics, but bluesy and fluent, with plenty of dirty, husky, honked and wailed asides. He uses the archetypical quintet format, including the always excellent, sweet-tart trumpeter Ellister van der Molen, thoroughly swinging pianist Miquel Rodriguez and crisp drummer Tim Hennekes, for a lively set of soul jazz and hard bop. The boogaloo of Diplodocus and classic Blue Note-ish What Happened In The Days are especially sparkling.

Ballads find him in relatively smoother mode, underlined by young pianist Sebastiaan van Bavel, whose melancholy chords and light toucher provide the backdrop to, among others, Here’s That Rainy Day and The Man I Love.

Different strokes for different folks, which works just fine, as the in-your-face tenor sax of Beets is the common thread. As far as sax goes, arguably the stop-time, r&b-drenched Brother Hank is homage not only to Mobley but, perhaps unintentionally and subconsciously, to Hank Crawford, who predominantly shone on alto and bari. After all, the sweeping A Night That Lasts Forever also oozes the soul of the late great saxophonist and musical director of the Ray Charles band. Either way, examples of sincere and uplifting straight-ahead jazz.

Find Big Sounds at Maxanter.

Johnny Griffin - Change Of Pace

Johnny Griffin Change Of Pace (Riverside 1961)

The Little Giant broadened his horizon on Riverside Records.

 

Johnny Griffin - Change Of Pace

Personnel

Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone), Julius Watkins (French horn), Larry Gales & Bill Lee (bass), Ben Riley (drums)

Recorded

on February 7 & 16, 1961 in New York City

Released

as RLP 368 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Soft And Furry
In The Still Of The Night
The Last Of The Fat Pants
Same To You
Connie’s Bounce
Side B:
Situation
Nocturne
Why Not?
As We All Know


As far as unity of vision, style, sound and sleeve design is concerned, Blue Note of course is the max. But Riverside had tastes of her own as well. Regardless of occasional complaints of vinyl pressings by monophiles and stereophiles, Riverside’s value as a front-line jazz label, largely due to founder Orrin Keepnews, is widely acknowledged. Take the case of Johnny Griffin. The bop and hard bop tenor saxophonist traveled from Argo and Blue Note to Riverside, for which he recorded a series of diverse albums between 1958 and ’63. Part of those were as co-leader on subsidiary Jazzland with his hard-blowing tenor colleague Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis.

So, on the one hand, Griffin swung straightforward and hard, occasionally with “Jaws”, and on the other hand explored his fascinations in agreement with Keepnews, who was already a concept-minded boss. Keepnews had started Riverside as a company of traditional jazz compilations, provided history of jazz narratives on wax and let Thelonious Monk debut on his label with repertory of Duke Ellington – controversial and surprising move dividing Monk geeks to this day. Griffin’s records were top-notch. The folk song hodgepodge of The Kerry Dancers and gospel-drenched The Big Soul Band are considered Griffin classics. Studio Jazz Party is a hot little date – here Keepnews repeated the idea of recording artists in the studio in the presence of a small live audience, which had proved extremely successful in the case of The Cannonball Adderley Quintet’s In San Francisco in 1959.

Change Of Pace is another odd man out. Tasteful dish. Safe to say, like a refined bouillabaisse from Marseille. The recipe consists of Griffin’s tenor saxophone, Julius Watkins’s French horn, Larry Gales and Bill Lee’s upright basses and Ben Riley’s drums. (Gales and Riley played on Griffin/Lockjaw Davis records and would eventually become the rhythm section of Thelonious Monk from 1964-67) Pretty unusual ingredients that flavor Change Of Pace’s refreshing and sophisticated repertoire. Excepting Cole Porter’s In The Still Of The Night, which flows gracefully in spite of its breakneck speed, the excellent songwriting is on account of Griffin, while Watkins, Bill Lee (film director Spike Lee’s father) and Consuela Lee (no relation!) each provided one tune.

The absence of piano makes the music breathe with peppermint breath. The combination of arco and bowed bass fills in harmonic gaps equally effective as Watkins’s soft-hued alternate lines behind Griffin’s supple and strong tenor. As a rule, Griffin is fiery, playing as if he devoured a couple of red hot chili peppers. But here he has found a particularly strong balance between bop and lyricism, exemplified very well by Soft And Furry, a remarkably tender song and irresistible Griffin classic. The restrained and fluent approach of prime French horn player Julius Watkins, who was rivalled only by David Amram in the 50s, reveals a true master at work. At once bossy and vulnerable, Watkins plays as if he’s constantly serenading his lover.

The sound palette of Change Of Pace is curiously enchanting and mesmerizing. A warm bath. Fulfilling, akin to the feeling you have when letting yourself fall down on a hotel bed after a long walk in a strange and beautiful city. It sounds as hip and modern today as it did in 1961.

Freedom In Music, Freedom In Life

THESIS MILES DAVIS – RICARDO PINHEIRO

“Davis’s stage conduct (that signifies the rejection of the role of the jazz musician as an entertainer) and the freer musical processes he was working on had an underlying and profound political substance: he was not only stimulating freedom in music eliminating melodic, harmonic and rhythmic pre-established canons, but also using new musical ideas and concepts that served as a metaphor for an ideal society and that appealed for social change.”

After my post on Miles Davis’s My Funny Valentine I received a message from Portuguese guitarist Ricardo Pinheiro. Pinheiro drew my attention to his thesis on the Miles Davis performance of Stella By Starlight in 1964. I found it interesting that Ricardo illuminated in-depth what I suggested in my review, the open but too often neglected door that jazz (and music in general) is not an entity cut off from society but a mutually stimulating phenomenon.

The Second Great Quintet of Miles Davis (or: the ‘first’ SGQ with George Coleman preceding Wayne Shorter) performing on a night sponsored by among others the NCAAP, is a case in point. Ricardo compares Davis’s 1958 version with his 1964 live version, pointing out the far-reaching flexible treatment of harmony (but one of the band’s challenging inventions) and arguing that “cultural, social, racial, and historical implications are crucial for the process of building signification regarding a specific recorded or live performance.”

Read Ricardo’s thesis, accepted by Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa in September 2020 here.

Significantly, the versatile Pinheiro himself is an emotive and intelligent guitarist aware of the shifts of parameters in music and society. Pinheiro cooperated with among others Dave Liebman, Peter Erskine, Eric Ineke and John Gunther. Recent recordings are Caruma and the brand-new Dança do Pólen, both stilled images of loneliness and acceptance and the beauty of nature, sparse outings of guitar (and in the case of Caruma voices). By no means conscious efforts of “Corona-recordings” (You’d be amazed at how many announcements of “Lockdown” albums I received in my mailbox) but albums that relate ambiguously to contemporary life.

Check out Ricardo’s website here.

Merl Saunders - Soul Grooving

Merl Saunders Soul Grooving (Galaxy 1968)

Organist Merl Saunders’ debut album from 1968, Soul Grooving, definitely is hot. Seems like the fellow from Frisco swallowed a chunk of chili pepper.

Merl Saunders - Soul Grooving

Personnel

Merl Saunders (organ), Jimmy Daniels (bass), Eddie Moore (drums), unidentified orchestra, Ray Shanklin’ (arranger)

Recorded

in 1968

Released

as Galaxy in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
Soul Roach
Lonesome Fever
I Pity The Fool
Up, Up And Away
Ode To Billy Joe
Side B:
My Train
Angel Eyes
Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby
Tighten Up
Soul Groovin’


The liner notes of the raucous Soul Grooving tell that Merl Saunders was based in his birthplace of San Francisco, where he started out on piano and attended the University of California. During his stint in the army in Germany in the mid-fifties, Saunders studied music at the University of Mainz and appeared in the Ed Sullivan Show. He took up the organ in 1959 and accompanied, among others, Dinah Washington.

His trio consists of bassist Jimmy Daniels and drummer Eddie Moore. Daniels boasts experience of playing with Johnny “Hammond” Smith, Moore with Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery. Nice resumé. Saunders piqued the interest of the Flophouse Detective Agency a couple of years ago and it found out that the organist cooperated with Jerry “Grateful Dead” Garcia in the late 60s and early 70s. It makes sense. Perhaps a Pinkerton sleuth spotted Saunders and Garcia on the day when they first met in Haight-Ashbury, amidst the daydreamin’ flower children, secretly planning all sorts of musical experimentation. You can trust it your Pinkerton man knows his dandelion masquerades.

Nothing of the Frisco vibe, however, rubbed off on Soul Grooving, not even a whiff of incense. No LSD but straight shots of Cutty Sark. And pork chops with lots of gravy. Soul Groovin’ is 24 carat chitlin’ circuit music, groove tailor-made and born out of the circuit of clubs that tended to the black audience. It is part of the universe of ‘race’ music, which was the name for black music until Alan Freed dubbed it ‘rhythm & blues’: same thing, gospel rhythm-based music with profane lyrics, except that with Freed’s package festivals, the white audience came into the equation and soon we’d have rock & roll, Chuck Berry, Bobby Womack, Bo Diddley etcetera, who inspired pale white and blue collar cats from Britain like Jagger and Richards and the Davies brothers, and then there was rock. Rock would not have existed without race music.

And Soul Grooving has its modest place in the pantheon, which runs from Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan, Jimmy Smith, B.B. King to Jimi Hendrix, who paid his dues in the circuit playing with Little Richard and Curtis Knight, among others. Soul Grooving was released in the late sixties, the tail end of the circuit’s existence. As a result of the disintegration of the black neighborhoods, which was hastened by the incoming, havoc-reaping flood of hard drugs, and the rise of disco music, the circuit more of less perished, and with it the communal aspect that lay at the heart of the music’s vitality and strength. Rap and Hip Hop would eventually revitalize the community, in an extremely different way and not in a circuit of clubs but on the basketball court and in the barren streets of New York.

At the time of Soul Grooving, Merl Saunders enjoyed a residency at club Jack’s of Sutter in San Francisco. The album consists of trio performances and tunes that are enhanced with big band scores by arranger Ray Shanklin. The combination of big ensembles and Hammond organ had been tried before, quite successfully, by Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Groove Holmes and Shirley Scott. Merl Saunders is a superb addition to the niche. Big brass collides with the crunchy organ on the blues-soul shuffle Tighten Up, a Saunders/Shanklin original that reaches for the sexy, sweaty vibe of the Ike & Tina Turner Soul Revue, steadily working towards orgasm.

Soul Grooving is littered with such wild rides, including the title track, a boogaloo burner lighted by a rebellious, honking tenor sax solo. My Train, also by Saunders & Shanklin, is a copy of This Train, which, as we know from various sources including Big Bill Broonzy, carries no gamblers. With admirable originality, Saunders does not take a level-headed approach to ballads, including them as mere breathers or filler, but, picking different sounds out of the keyboard, lends an eerie film noir quality to Angel Eyes and Lonesome Fever, the latter another Saunders tune that is enlivened by excellent double-timing of the guitarist.

The band is of all-round quality and raises a number of relatively simple tunes to another level. The funky drumming of Up, Up And Away is wild and would’ve made Idris Muhammad smile broadly. For that matter, though I don’t know about the Pinkerton fellows, it has the Flophouse Sleuths grinning from ear to ear.

Ian Cleaver & Gideon Tazelaar - Volume 1

Ian Cleaver & Gideon Tazelaar Volume 1 (Dox 2021)

NEW RELEASE – IAN CLEAVER & GIDEON TAZELAAR

Young lions strengthen our belief in the future of real jazz.

Ian Cleaver & Gideon Tazelaar - Volume 1

Personnel

Ian Cleaver (trumpet), Gideon Tazelaar (tenor saxophone), Benjamin Herman (alto saxophone), Joris Roelofs (bass clarinet), Felix Moseholm (bass), Jorge Rossy (drums)

Recorded

on August 11, 2020 at Electric Monkey Studio, Amsterdam

Released

as Dox 548 in 2021

Track listing

Love You Madly
Second Time Around
Rollo II
Titoro
It’s Alright With Me
Tamalpais
Dancing In The Dark
I Get Along Without You Very Well


Ian Cleaver and Gideon Tazelaar are like Vileda sponges. The exceptionally gifted millennials absorb all kinds of information and inspiration around the clock and, when squeezed, increasingly mature statements pour out. Tazelaar spent time in New York, graduating on Juilliard and practicing and playing with the likes of giant George Coleman. But subsequently, both friends took shelter on a tiny island at a big lake in The Netherlands, further honing their chops like Nature Boys among the sounds of the birds and fowl. Hence the brooding duck that’s pictured on the sleeve of Volume 1.

They debut as a co-leading duo on wax and besides bassist Felix Moseholm (also a Juilliard graduate and nephew to granduncle Erik whom assisted Eric Dolphy in the sixties) have recruited heavyweight Jorge Rossy. The Spanish drummer cooperated with, among others, Woody Shaw, Brad Meldhau and Joe Lovano. Former mentor and alto saxophonist Benjamin Herman and bass clarinetist Joris Roelofs guest on a couple of tunes.

Cleaver/Tazelaar & Co perform a diverse and carefully handpicked set of classic jazz with self-evident flair. One asset of Volume 1 is the natural feel for melody that Cleaver and Tazelaar share, sometimes sprightly unisono, at other times flexibly contrapuntal. Of the latter, Duke Ellington’s Love You Madly possesses a lovely old-timey, sultry vibe, featuring a bright and punchy solo by Cleaver. For this occasion, Killer Cleaver is a well-suited nickname, as the trumpeter enthusiastically throws himself into the battle with skills that are clearly not used for virtuosity’s sake and a sound as delightful as morning glory.

Best of all about Tazelaar is his relaxed articulation. Would one know nothing of his age, one would by listening to Volume 1 arguably guess that the tenor saxophonist on duty is a veteran and, no mistaking, in fine shape. His sound is warm and resonant. Collected but headstrong, Tazelaar takes on the breakneck tempo of Cole Porter’s It’s Alright With Me. Ultra-slow tempos separate the men from the boys and Tazelaar kills the slowest version of Hoagy Carmichael’s I Get Along Without You Very Well of late, a refreshing quartet effort that alternates between a flexible verse and a lightly swinging bridge.

Extra horns are the icing on the cake. The band creates high melodious drama of Oscar Pettiford’s Tamalpais, a mysterious piece that seems to reflect a visit of Ravel to Andalusia. Benjamin Herman feels like a fish in the water of Billy Taylor’s equally exotic Titoro. The capricious and sandpapered phrases of Joris Roelofs, definitely a European class act on bass clarinet, raise the bar on Misha Mengelberg’s post-bop classic Rollo II.

Any type of fowl will do on Volume 2, as long as we’re guaranteed that it’ll be in the making any time soon.

Miles Davis - My Funny Valentine

Miles Davis My Funny Valentine (Columbia 1965)

As the development of the Civil Rights Act reaches its climax in 1964, Miles Davis records My Funny Valentine, sophisticated masterpiece of his Second Great Quintet.

Miles Davis - My Funny Valentine

Personnel

Miles Davis (trumpet), George Coleman (tenor saxophone), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Tony Williams (drums)

Recorded

on February 12, 1964 at Philharmonic Hall of Lincoln Center, New York City

Released

as CL-2306 in 1965

Track listing

Side A:
My Funny Valentine
All Of You
Side B:
Stella By Starlight
All Blues
I Thought About You


Elation and awe fight for first row. You know what I mean what happens when listening to My Funny Valentine, Miles Davis speakin’ his piece in 1964 with his Second Great Quintet, which features tenor saxophonist George Coleman (the ‘iconic’ 2nd would include Wayne Shorter), pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. In the year of 1964, on the day of February 12, two days after the long-awaited Civil Rights Act was set in motion, Miles Davis, significantly, records for release My Funny Valentine, not his first and not his last beautiful example of black jazz, a statement at once refined and sleazy, haunting and down-to-earth, entertaining and thoughtful. It is commonly overlooked that the performance at The Philharmonic Hall of Lincoln Center in New York City was co-sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Congress of Racial Equality.

At the milestone date of February 10, the Civil Rights Act was passed by the House of Representatives. Delayed by a filibuster (the democratic right to oppose against a proposal by means of endless strings of speeches in the Senate – Frank Capra’s great movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington starring James Stewart gives an enlightening and riveting view of the filibuster process), the Act was finally approved by the Senate on June 19 and on July 2 was signed into law by President Johnson, who had taken office after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the fall of 1963.

The Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin and constituted a defense mechanism against voter discrimination, racial segregation in schools and public places, and employment discrimination. It was an extension of CRA 1957, which powered by the case of Brown vs Board of Education rendered segregation in schools unconstitutional and protected voting rights.

Legends goes that John F. Kennedy was a driving force of change. President Kennedy was admired by the Afro-American community. Musicians paid homage. Alto saxophonist Andy White named his band The JFK Quintet. Booker Ervin lamented his passing on A Day To Mourn on his Freedom Book record. Even Miles Davis, usually not so generous with applause, remarked in 1962: “I like the Kennedy brothers. They are swinging people.”

Why put cigarette paper between those two sentences by the Dark Prince? If anything, the young and energetic Kennedy’s indeed had plenty of style. However, the truth is that it was only after severe pressure – the Birmingham Campaign, protests, lobbies, the March on Washington – that JFK became supportive of new legislation. Moreover, there actually is very little evidence that Kennedy showed any sign of action on his part concerning the betterment of the standard of living for Afro-Americans in the years preceding his presidential career. He may not have been a bad cat but fact is he slept through the major part of the afternoon. The Afro-American love for JFK is sincere but speaks volumes about the standard of alternative political leadership.

To think that, during the tense zeitgeist of the mid-sixties, no one took care to pay Davis’s young crew of George Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams for their services on the special night of February 10. Nada, zip, zero!

Two LP’s were culled from the Miles Davis Quintet’s performance: Four & More and My Funny Valentine. Four & More is fast and furious, My Funny Valentine is slow to medium-slow and supple. Both are killer achievements, though the former album, consisting of up-tempo tunes (taken up a notch) offers no relief and that is one of the reasons I prefer My Funny Valentine.

No album titled My Funny Valentine could consist of breakneck speeds. The only tune with a reasonably fast tempo is the Davis staple All Blues. It is a typically organic group effort and includes a solo climax by Miles Davis that makes the children jump off their stools in the circus tent. Does not somehow this music of the Second Great Quintet prefigure that great flexible band of Woody Shaw featuring Carter Jefferson, Larry Willis and Stafford James in the mid-1970’s? Just a thought.

The ballad readings of the flexible Davis quintet are exquisite. Listening to the quintet is like following a sailboat in an Olympic event that anticipates the differing weather conditions, which range from calm to breeze to gusty wind. Captain and crew are quite the match on the gulfs of Stella By Starlight, All Of You and I Thought About You, all of which are developed, interestingly, without unisono ensembles and Captain Davis stating the melody. Tension between vulnerability and chutzpah is a Davis forte and developed to the max during All Of You, which is marked by ever-so-slight trumpet whispers and Davis’s patented pastel colors. The captain invites an eager response from the crew and climaxes with an upward, fearless cadenza.

The thoughtful but solid lines of George Coleman contrast nicely with the brooding fantasies of Miles Davis. It was said that Tony Williams felt that Coleman’s style was too polished and conservative and that was the reason Coleman hit the dust. Coleman always maintained that it was him that flew the coop and that it was only after reading the Miles Davis autobiography that he learned about Williams’s opinion. In his autobiography, Davis by the way stated that Coleman was damn well able to play rough and free if he felt like it and once sustained a wild avant ride during the total course of a concert just to thumb his nose to the young lions in the band. Coleman eventually integrated some avant techniques but only if they were to the advantage of his purely melodic and balanced style. That is why I love George Coleman. Eventually, his style has proved rather influential.

Coleman’s ending of his solo of the title track, the pièce de résistance of this great quintet, sounds like a violin, a touching tag to a lovely, balanced story. No small feat, considering that he followed one of the finest Davis solos on wax. Davis’s kaleidoscopic colors and bends stay close to the melody but at the same time are played in such a way that you see My Funny Valentine in a new light. You hear at work not someone who plays changes but an architect of sound and emotion.

Instead of smashing his notes through the wall of the fortress, Miles Davis seduces the gatekeeper such that he opens the gates totally bedazzled and entranced.

Funny Valentine’s looks are laughable, unphotographable. Yet, she’s his favorite work of art. Brave high notes end the impressionist painting of Miles Davis, full horn climax that ignites subtle and smooth and propulsive swing. Special evenings require special bands and this eager incarnation of the Second Great Quintet beautifully performed its duties.

Arbenz Mehari Veras Conversations #1: Condensed

NEW RELEASE – ARBENZ MEHARI VERAS

Conversations #1: Condensed teams up drummer Florian Arbenz with trumpeter Hermon Mehari and guitarist Nelson Veras. It’s a promising start to Arbenz’s ambitious project of twelve records with different line ups.

Arbenz Mehari Veras - Conversations #1- Condensed

Personnel

Florian Arbenz (drums), Hermon Mehari (trumpet), Nelson Veras (guitar)

Recorded

in 2020 in Basel

Released

on Hammer Recordings in 2021

Track listing

Boarding The Beat
Let’s Try This Again
Groove A
Olha Maria
In Medias Res
Vibing With Morton
Race Face
Dedicated To The Quintessence
Circle
Freedom Jazz Dance


Swiss drummer Florian Arbenz is part of that versatile and exceptional European breed that partakes in multiple musical settings. Arbenz worked with Bennie Maupin, Dave Liebman and Greg Osby and sustains membership of various bands, notably the long-standing trio VEIN.

Only last year, Arbenz released the self-titled, world music-tinged album of his band Convergence and a duet with Osby, Reflections Of The Eternal Line, reviewed here. This year Arbenz has taken on the challenging plan of Conversations, which involves the release of no less than twelve albums of different line ups, recorded in his studio in Basel.

The kick-off is Conversations #1: Condensed featuring American trumpeter Hermon Mehari and Brazilian guitarist Nelson Veras. The trio explores a wide variety of moods and strikes a fine balance between groove, tunefulness and free expression. Both Mehari and Veras are flexible, exceptional players and their continuous stream of ideas is underlined by Arbenz, who fills spaces actively and with precise and melodically refined rhythms and provides a succinct bass “feel” with various percussive additions on his kit. Arbenz blends well with Mehari’s beautiful tart tone and Veras’s sultry lines and voicing.

Boarding The Beat is a hip Latin vamp, Olha Maria a lovely Spanish-tinged melody and In Medias Res uplifting post-modern bop. The moody piece Let’s Try This Again makes you feel as if an angel has descended from the sky to offer you a can of water while you’re standing in the blistering hot Mexican desert. The loose harmonic texture of Race Face does nothing to hide a good old swing feeling. Eddie Harris’s Freedom Jazz Dance is notable for Arbenz’s fearless and articulate drum thunder near the end. There’s more and not a note is wasted.

Intrigued by his challenging concept, I asked Florian a few questions.

Flophouse Magazine: You will be releasing no less than twelve ‘Conversations’. Could you give me an idea of the musicians and what kind of music it will contain?

Florian Arbenz: Yes, it’s quite a big and challenging project for me! So far I recorded six Conversations and the next three are fully planned and will be recorded in August. I cannot talk too much about names yet, but I can tell you that the participating musicians are renowned jazz musicians of all generations living in Europe. The next Conversation, a double release, will be released on July 30. Conversation #2 is a duet with the great British vibes/marimba-player Jim Hart and in Conversation #3 I add Swiss bass legend Heiri Känzig to the duo.
I expect to release all twelve Conversations before summer 2022 and really hope I will succeed!

Well, about the music, each Conversation will have a main focus which is part of my musical life. In Conversation #1 it was the very quick and spontaneous possibility of communication, #2 and #3 will be with a focus on percussion.

FM: How did you come up with the idea of joining Herman and Nelson?

FA: I already knew Nelson and I really admire his playing. I never met Hermon before the recording but I knew that he’s a killer musician. So I decided to take some risk and just try this combination. This is a great thing about this project, I don’t really have much pressure, I can experiment and try things and if it turns out good I can release it. So far, all the six Conversation-recordings went very well but maybe there also will be a combination which doesn’t work at all… Let’s see.

FM: Did you write all the music except Freedom Jazz Dance?

Yes, I wrote music especially for this combination. It’s quite crucial that the musicians feel comfortable with the music if you don’t have time to rehearse.

I will also record a different version of Freedom Jazz Dance with every combination. It’s very interesting for me to see how the possibilities to play this tune change with the participating musicians.

FM: I guess it is rather different playing with someone for the first time, a step out of the comfort zone.

FA: That’s right. But this is the great thing about improvisation, isn’t it? If you step out of your comfort zone you will discover other things you might never would have discovered. I think that if you play with a musician you never played with before, there is maybe a risk that your personalities don’t fit too well. But in the case of Hermon, it felt great from the first moment, so the whole recording session felt very easy and natural.

FM: Your drum sound is intriguing, it’s got a different feel. Clear, very balanced and not so much resonation. How did you reach that point?

FA: I maybe took a little different way in my career as I studied classical percussion. So I think I might have a bit different view on sound than other drummers. I use a drumset with a small bass drum, wooden rims and natural skins. This naturally leads to a different sound. I think I just try to find myself in my sound, to be authentic, in my opinion that’s crucial if you’re an improvising musician.

FM: How did you create that bass feel on Condensed?

FA: I love to extend my drums with different percussion instruments. For instance, I use a big gong on Vibing with Morton and a marimbula on Race Face.

FM: How’s your hometown of Basel these days?

FA: Fine! My family and my friends also live here. It’s not necessarily a major jazz city, but I travel a lot, so I need to have a place where my loved ones are. Basel is small and nice, it’s easy to move and just great for me to live here.