Biondini/Godard/Niggli

What Is There What Is Not
Intakt CD 185

By Ken Waxman

A pleasant CD that draw equally on jazz, folkloric and so-called classical influences, What Is There What Is Not features a trio of highly proficient European players uniquely interpreting their own tunes plus compositions by John Coltrane and J.S. Bach. But, while the melding of the characteristic properties of Michel Godard’s tuba, Luciano Biondini’s accordion and Lucas Niggli’s drums are satisfying enough, one wishes the percussionist had a more upfront role.

Likely Switzerland’s most versatile contemporary drummer – heir to Pierre Favre, with whom he also performs – Niggli is part of many groups including an international drum quartet, a jazz-metal trio and different-sized improv combos, featuring among others, bassist Barry Guy. Here however his rhythmic smarts and percussion profundity are not as prominent as timbres from France’s Godard and Italy’s Biondini. Exemplar of multi-disciplinary sounds, both have extensive experience in the notated music milieu, with Biondini also working with jazzers such as trumpeter Enrico Rava, and Godard, who additionally plays bass and the tuba’s ancestor, the serpent on this CD, having recorded with improvisers like reedist Gianluigi Trovesi.

Biondini’s “Powerplay” and Niggli’s “Schluss”, the date first and final tracks outline the trio’s strategy. A happy mazurka, the former melds Goddard’s pedal-point slurs, the accordionist’s tremolo shuddering and the drummer’s paradiddles into melodic counterpoint intensified with a rough beats from Niggli. Meanwhile “Schluss” descends tonally as vibrating drones from Biondini evolve in tandem with measured bops from Niggli and alphorn-like reverb from Goddard, which is transformed into slurred blue notes by the climax.

Goddard’s double bass strokes are prominent on “Naima” along with the Niggli’s hand slapped, conga-like patterns. However Biondini’s elaboration of the theme on pulsing bellows makes it a bit too polite and simple. Goddard’s arrangement of “Adagio in F” features the familiar theme played delicately on accordion keys presaging slippery tonguing from the tubaist. Although the drummer’s entry two-thirds of the way through, coupled with a walking bass line, confirms the swinging pulse, Biondini’s interpretation may be too refined.

Oddly enough it’s Biondini’s bouncy “Prima del Cuore” which allows Niggli the most freedom. Ruffs, flams and hearty rim shots create a staccato interface alongside Godard’s flutter tonguing ostinato, adding needed oomph to an otherwise amiable but low-energy date.

Tracks: Powerplay; Sur l’échelle des sphères; Adagio in F (from Bach's Violin Sonata BWV 1016) ; Naima; Prologo ; What is There What is Not; Le sonnet oublié; Prima del Cuore; Schluss

Personnel: Michel Godard: tuba, serpent and bass; Luciano Biondini: accordion; Lucas Niggli: drums

—For New York City Jazz Record March 2012