February 3, 2009
Unit Records UTR 4204
Anything but “un-artless”, the Swiss Unart 4.0 combo demonstrate its broadened sonic palate here with 12 tracks divided into interlocking suites written by three of the quartet’s members. Only drummer Dieter Ulrich didn’t compose anything. But he holds up his end of the bargain by providing understated, unobtrusive accompaniment on all counts, 4/4 and otherwise.
Veterans all, each player adds his experience to make up an interlocking whole, which in choice of band name and final tune – “Shepp’s Steps” – recalls the sort of biting saxophone lines and gruff trombone sputter blending that Roswell Rudd pioneered with Archie Shepp’s group and as part of the New York Art Quartet. What distinguishes Unart from those other bands though, is its lack of a bass player, replaced by the inventive playing of guitarist Urs Röllin, a graduate of Los Angeles’ Guitar Institute of Technology and artistic director of the Schaffhauser Jazzfestival.
Trombonist Robert Morgenthaler has worked in projects with the likes of percussionists Günter “Baby” Sommer and Lucas Niggli and is also part of the alphorn duo, the Swiss Horns. Drummer Dieter Ulrich has played with Day & Taxi and is a member of Jürg Solothurnmann’s In Transit band with American pianist Michael Jefry Stevens. Meanwhile Ewald Hügle, who plays all the expected members of the saxophone family here, is in pianist Thomas Silvestri’s combo.
This multiplicity of background gives each band member more resources to call upon when negotiating the interlocking themes. For instance Röllin’s suite depends as much on his decorative filigree as it does on his note-bending and steady chording. Cross-pulsed and arpeggiated, guitar licks introduce the horns which then develop a contrapuntal duet. After the guitarist sneaks into the mix to add chromatic snaps and runs to the blowsy trombone bluster and lyrical soprano saxophone bites, a restrained drum solo leads back to a staccato recapitulation and resolution of the head.
Hügle’s interlocking tunes on the other hand often depend on the saxophonist playing in lockstep with the trombonist, with notes flung out in higher or lower pitches, but always amplifying and mirroring each other’s sounds. As Ulrich’s straight time accompaniment holds down the bottom, space is made for melody shadowing by Röllin’s fleet finger-style picking. “Konstanz Nr. 4 Part 2” highlights the CD’s only real sound discursiveness with the composer’s side-slipping and raucous reed bites encouraging rebounds and paradiddles from the drummer before the horns combine chromatically to a Hard Bop-like finale.
A Swiss quartet that deserves to be heard more beyond its borders, the Unart 4.0 extends jazz language without ever breaking into incomprehensible speaking in tongues.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Bärenwisen 2. L. Dance 3. Marco’s Place 4. 4x3 5. Short 6. Octopus 7. The Coordinator 8. Twölf Wölf 9. Konstanz Nr. 4 Part 1 10. Counterpoints 11. Konstanz Nr. 4 Part 2 12. Shepp’s Steps
Personnel: Robert Morgenthaler (trombone); Ewald Hügle (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones); Urs Röllin (guitar) and Dieter Ulrich (drums and signal horn)