Florian Mode


Gargantuan and mad to the point of magic. Only hyperbole is fitting to describe Conversations #1-#12 by Swiss drummer and composer Florian Arbenz.

Twelve installments of musical conversations with totally different line-ups, spread over nine record releases. The Basel-based Arbenz, a staple of progressive European jazz that worked with Bennie Maupin and Dave Liebman and a member of the well-known VEIN trio with his piano-playing brother Michael, started it in the summer of the ‘pandemic’ 2021 and recently concluded the massive project with Conversation #11&12: On! featuring the voice of Yumi Oto and the percussion of Jim Hart, among others.

The series features a radical variety of musicians, instruments and styles. Among others involved are trumpeter Hermon Mehari, bassist François Moutin, accordionist João Barradas, saxophonist Tineke Postma, pianist Kirk Lightsey, tuba player Oren Marshall, saxophonist Greg Osby, Hammond organist Arno Krijger and trombonist Nils Wogram. Certainly, this has meant a lot of organizing, writing, arranging, mixing and plugging. Quite a rare and courageous effort! All albums are recorded in Arbenz’s Hammerstudio in his hometown in Switzerland.

The artwork is beautiful. Its design is strikingly coherent and together with the music has made the Conversation albums very collectible among jazz lovers.

To add to the uniqueness of his concept, Arbenz included Eddie Harris’s avant-groove anthem Freedom Jazz Dance on every single session of Conversations. A challenging idea which led to intriguing, creative interpretations showcasing the various strong points of all concerned. Go to Bandcamp and find the streams. Listen, for instance, to this version with Kirk Lightsey. (better even, watch the video) Or this one, made into a fugue, with Barradas and Rafael Jerjen on bass. Or this version with Marshall and trumpeter Jorge Vistel and saxophonist Wolfgang Puschnig. Finally, there’s the version with Osby and Krijger. Interestingly, I saw them perform it live in Paradox, Tilburg last November. On the spur of the moment, I was told afterwards, they unanimously decided to skip the theme, going for the gritty skeleton groove instead. That was something else.

Florian Arbenz

Find Conversations 1-12 on Florian’s Bandcamp page and buy the downloads or CD’s and vinyl here. Collectors that have completed #1 to #12 can get a box, contact Florian at Bandcamp.

Arbenz/Krijger/Osby Conversations #9: Targeted (SR-9)


Ain’t no jive talkin’.

Arbenz:Krijger:Osby - Targeted


Florian Arbenz (drums, percussion), Greg Osby (alto saxophone, soprano saxophone), Arno Krijger (organ)


on May 1, 2022 at Hammer Studios, Basel


as SR-9 in 2023

Track listing

Freedom Jazz Dance
Sleeping Mountain
Vertical Hold
Seven Steps To Heaven
I Loves You Porgy
Old Shaman

Florian Arbenz knows very well that the DANCE part of the title of Eddie Harris’s signature tune Freedom Jazz Dance was not a random but deliberate choice, as much so as FREEDOM. Up until now, we have enjoyed nine versions by the Swiss drummer, three to go. It is included on each of Arbenz’s twelve-part Conversations series of albums with musicians of all creeds and scenes. A wondrous, hilariously ambitious and multifaceted project that to date has delighted many jazzophiles, more so since Conversations is also released on vinyl. Each version of Harris’s freewheeling groove anthem is marked by original rhythmic and harmonic discoveries.

Yet again, on #9: Targeted featuring longtime Arbenz collaborator Greg Osby and Dutch Hammond organist Arno Krijger, Arbenz offers an interesting interpretation. Before the Basel-based percussionist commences with his muscular, layered jazz rock groove, Osby vigorously introduces the triangle of freedom, jazz and dance on soprano sax, picking up a short while later during their greasy excursion into Harrisland with hi-octane jumps on, over and right through the fence. Krijger follows suit and, free as a bird and freed from ch-ch-changes, oozes liberating energy.

Sure enough, Victor Feldman’s Seven Steps To Heaven (remember Lonnie Smith’s version?) kicks it up a notch. Like companion piece Freedom Jazz Dance, it is cut and deboned like an ox and subsequently the meat is seasoned and grilled, bon appetit. A classy case of deconstruction and rebuilding. Gritty and crunchy, it merits definition as neo-Tony Williams Lifetime-ish. (Remember Emergency?) Once more, it features an appropriate introduction, here in the form of West-African-tinged percussion. In fine and fiery form, Krijger cuts loose and performs his album highlight.

Throughout, the prolific organist is an incisive storyteller and sound wizard, his mind constantly focusing on the big picture. Acclaimed in Europe, it should be only a matter of time until his prowess is equally valued by American aficionados.

Dreamy and fairylike, Arbenz’s Sleepy Mountain sets the alarm at half past six, so you can just stay still and doze. Elves are awakened by Osby’s flexible alto sax story, which resembles the flight of the eagle, the sound of the flapping of its wings echoing and carrying across green and foggy hills. The extremely tranquil take on Gershwin’s I Loves You Porgy (remember Miles Davis famously covering no less than 3 tunes included here?) focuses on Osby’s hushed soprano playing. The sanding of his tone and the backdrop of Krijger’s eerie David Lynch slash John Carpenter-sounds make it all the more poignant.

Listening to #9: Targeted, one gets the distinct feeling that the rapport of this intriguing ‘organ’ trio is such that they would come up with something original and spontaneous by every new visit to the studio. Or live stage, a situation that is eagerly awaited.


Find Conversations #9: Targeted here.

Arbenz Mehari Veras Conversations #1: Condensed


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


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


in 2020 in Basel


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
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.

Reflections Of The Eternal Line


Swiss drummer Florian Arbenz cooperated with Kirk Lightsey, Bennie Maupin, Dave Liebman, Bruno Rousselet, among others. Rooted in classical percussion and fascinated by world rhythm, Arbenz is part of VEIN Trio and Convergence, the latter a band that grew out of interest in Cuban, Brazilian and West-African rhythm and was founded twenty-years ago by saxophonist Greg Osby.

Osby and Arbenz enjoy a special rapport and have cooperated for more than two decades. (Upon visiting New York and seeing performances of Osby in the early ‘90s, Arbenz is stated as saying, “From that moment on I wanted to play ‘Osby ‘s sort of music’”) However, they never found the time to record until this year. The result is Reflections Of The Eternal Line, bringing to life the art work of Stephen Spicher, who contributed the enticing visual art of the album and moreover opened up his work shop as studio.

At the core of the styles of Arbenz and Osby, one on a variety of percussion beside the kit as kalimba and gong, the other on alto and soprano sax, is a clever, continuing suggestion of harmonic texture. Suggestion, melodiousness and mystique pervade obliquely groove-oriented passages but most of all spheric pieces as Truth, Chant and The Passion Of Light, which benefit from a sense of stillness and introversion. Please Stand By features Osby as a modern-day successor to Yusef Lateef.

Challenging duo music seems to be a resurgent phenomenon. You could arrange an interesting evening schedule with albums such as Han Bennink/Joris Roelofs’ Icarus, Marcel Serierse/Tim Langedijk’s Telegrams and Florian Arbenz/Greg Osby’s Reflections Of The Eternal Line. Good company.

Dutch saxophonist Tineke Postma (who co-incidentally toured with Osby pré-Corona and performed with VEIN including Osby) is the European partner of the Arbenz duo project. Keep up to date on the website of Florian Arbenz here.

Find Convergence here.

Find Reflections Of The Eternal Line here.