Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio

Clustrophy
TUM CD 025

Daniel Erdmann-Samuel Rohrer

How to Catch a Cloud

Intakt CD 194

One of the German improvisers who reached Jazz maturity in this century, Wolfsburg-born saxophonist Daniel Erdmann, who now lives in Reims, France, has been involved in appealing projects with fellow reedists like Rudi Mahall and Gebhard Ullmann as well as impressing with his own Das Kapital quartet. But it’s apparent from these recent CDs that his creativity is strongly linked to his companions and circumstances. While the programs of Clustrophy and How to Catch a Cloud present well-played contemporary Jazz, the extra spark of inspiration apparent on Das Kapital for instance appears lacking.

Operating on this side of Jazz-Fusion, the mostly Finnish Innkvisitio band lead by Lapinjärvi-born multi-reedist Mikko Innanen creates 11 dense, rhythmic tracks heavily dependent on the sonic identities that arise from Seppo Kantonen’s synthesizer and the solo and unison blowing of the reed players, who include Sweden’s Fredrik Ljungkvist, a charter members of the Atomic quartet, along with Erdmann and Innanen. Apparently taking its clues from the Roots-Pop gestalt that characterizes the contemporary sounds of guitarists like Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny, Erdmann’s quartet with Swiss drummer Samuel Rohrer on the other CD is almost unalterably low-key and folksy. Rounding out the band are German guitarist Frank Möbus, with whom the sax man has been working for over a decade; plus French cellist Vincent Courtois, who has worked with the likes of reedist Louis Sclavis.

Since the program on his elaborately packaged CD in the main consists of Innanen’s compositions and arrangements, one can’t fault the other sax players, who have expressed more profound statements elsewhere. Throughout, the majority of the performances appear to balance on that narrow line between the sort of Punk-Jazz that Tim Berne and others were playing with original ferocity in the late 1970s, and the kind of Jazz-R&B the Ray Charles band and the various soloists who graduated from it purveyed a little earlier. The interface is anything but subtle. When slower tunes are showcased, they appear as close cousins to power ballads, with many of the harmonies and even individual licks sounding overly composed.

For instance “757” moves along with a rhythm that sounds closer to the Mar-Keys than the Modern Jazz Quartet. Considering that drummer Joonas Riippa, who supplies the heavy backbeats and Kantonen, who sticks to organ-like notes from his synth, both performed with ex-Tower of Power saxist Lenny Pickett, the similarities could be expected. Goosed along with percussion whaps, Innanen’s screaming alto solo relates mostly to ex-JB Pee Wee Ellis despite some earlier near-lyrical horn harmonies. There even appears to be some sampled cries added among the Hi-Life styled beat. Similar references creep up on the title track, with Kantonen exposing his inner Jimmy Smith through supple keyboard pulsing and bass pedal thumping; Erdmann coming on with a snorting tenor sax solo firmly in the Ray Charles-band Don Wilkerson school; plus a finale of vamping saxes that only lacks Charles’ voice. Much better is “The Grey Adler Returns Again” with thick baritone sax snorts, vamps and reed bites from Innanen and Erdmann in counterpoint to Ljungkvist’s staccato flutter tonguing and whistling – backed by ruffs and paradiddles from the drummer.

Even moodier interludes such as “Ardennes at Dawn” and “A Panoramic View from the Top Floor” seem more like track separators than profound statements, although the former does have corkscrew intensity expressed by a triple clarinet front line. Lamentably the latter, with overwhelming pulsations from Kantonen before he outputs a mellotron-styled solo, does update ProgRock – if the world has been waiting for another instance of that.

A similar question arises with How to Catch a Cloud, since strings and sax sessions which draw on so-called Classical, Pop and Rock as well as Jazz are exceedingly common. Considering his name is above the title as well, it’s evident that Erdmann must take credit or blame for at least 50% of what transpired on this all-acoustic CD. With nearly all the tracks composed by either of the co-leaders, it seems ironic that the one group improv, that is the title tune, probably communicates best at what the four were aiming. With unsentimental romanticism expressed through Erdmann’s intense vibrato, Courtois’ solid scrubs and Möbus’ decorating licks, the mood is imaginative if a bit prosaic.

With the guitarist’s laid-back C&W-styled twanging often in the spotlight, a wearying flatness infests many of the other tunes, with only the cellist’s spiccato rambles waking things up on Rohrer’s “In the Valley” and the saxman’s flutter tonguing doing the same on his own “M39 - Route to Bishkek”. King Curtis-styled reed yaks plus tremolo pacing from Courtois and some Spanish-styled, Möbus flat-picking characterize the drummer-composed “Broken Tails” – is it he who suffers from American roots music envy? However Möbus’ chiming fingering and the drummer’s rolls and ruffs at least add a little life to the tune.

In short, while there’s nothing offensively wrong about either CD, neither is there anything impressively right. Erdmann, Ljungkvist and Möbus, at very least, have all created knock-out sessions elsewhere and likely will do so again. The hope is that the others, Fins, French and Swiss will another time also rise to the occasion.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Clustrophy: 1. Earth’s Second Moon 2. Vraa-Tender 3. Clustrophy 4. A Panoramic View from the Top Floor 5. Underground 6. The Grey Adler Returns Again 7. Ardennes at Dawn 8. Jantaraboon II 9. Detto the Magician 10. 757 11. Jam Afane

Personnel: Clustrophy: Mikko Innanen (alto, baritone and soprano saxophones, Indian wooden clarinet, percussion, whistles, toy instruments [except 9]); Fredrik Ljungkvist (tenor and sopranino saxophones, clarinet [except 1, 5, 9]); Daniel Erdmann (tenor, baritone and soprano saxophones, toy clarinet [except 1, 5, 9]); Seppo Kantonen (synthesizers ([except 5]) and Joonas Riippa (drums, percussion, pocket trumpet [except 5, 9])

Track Listing: How: 1. Still Awake but Already Dreaming 2. 5463 3. Les melons de Cavaillon 4. Broken Tails 5. How to Catch a Cloud 6. In the Valley 7. M39 - Route to Bishkek 8. One Old Soul 9. No River but Trees

Personnel: How: Daniel Erdmann (tenor saxophone); Frank Möbus (guitar); Vincent Courtois (cello) and Samuel Rohrer (drums)