Norbert Stein

Pata on the Cadillac
Pata Music 21

Dom Minasi

The Bird, The Girl and The Donkey II

UnseenRecords foUR 7795

What a difference an ocean makes. Two little big bands, one American and one German, both heavy on the horns and including only one chordal instrument apiece, express their leader’s individual definition of Jazz with these discs. Although equally exciting, the results are as different as Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s and Canada’s Stephen Harper’s view of the civil war in Syria.

Köln-based tenor saxophonist Norbert Stein with Pata on the Cadillac has produced 10 meticulously arranged original compositions that bring out the best qualities of his ensemble: brass men Ryan Carniaux and Nicolao Valiensi, fellow reedists Michael Heupel and Georg Wissel, drummer Christoph Haberer and string players Albrecht Maurer and Joscha Oetz. The result is soundtrack-like music in the best sense, with the themes creating sound pictures while using the dual rhythm-solo roles of Valiensi’s euphonium and Oetz’s double bass to their best advantages.

In contrast the single track on New York-based guitarist Dom Minasi’s The Bird, The Girl and The Donkey II is a continuation of the free-form Free Jazz ethos which has flourished in downtown Manhattan since the early 1960s. Sloppy and startling in equal measures, the tensile group vibrations rolls back at various times to expose individual skills of such veteran improvisers as saxophonists Blaise Siwula, Ras Moshe and Remi Alvarez, brass man Matt Lavelle, bassist Albey Balgochian and drummer Jay Rosen plus the guitarist.

Just because Stein and company haven’t committed completely to atonality, doesn’t lessen the excitement on his disc. If anything it may add to it. That’s because the soloists can play as inside or outside as they wish, with references made throughout to sounds as varied as Japanese court music, parade-ground beats, Jazz-Rock fusion, sentimental pop songs and semi-classical tropes. When this happens however, Stein is too sophisticated a musician to let the resulting motif stand on its own without challenge. The martial rhythms that appear on “Drifting” for instance, are balanced by percussion riffs that move from finger-cymbal clacks to tough back beats while Carniaux’s trumpet solo goes from light puffs to Mariachi echoes.

Similarly the reed parts on “In a Man’s Mind” split in such a fashion that while one saxophonist is trying to upset the narrative with vibrating tongue slurs, the other sounds like he’s sounding a legit version of “Arrivederci Roma”. While all this is happening, Haberer’s inventive hand drumming and flutist Michael Heupel peeps outlines the main exposition. The underlying double bass and euphonium line on “See you, Mara” could serve as a cop show theme, but few genre films would be ready for its extensions that encompass honky-tonk fiddling courtesy of Maurer, and some jagged reed and tongue extensions which suggest John Coltrane may have walked into Peter Gunn’s favorite dive.

More profoundly the head of the title tune comes across as a busier take on “Rhapsody in Blue”, with a modified big band horn arrangement finally being sabotaged by flute bites and speedy drum paradiddles. Before a “Pop Goes the Weasel” ending, enough broken- octave cacophony has arisen from all concerned to twist the theme into an exciting approximation of Free Jazz.

Free Jazz is the alpha and omega of the other CD. In fact, the only – perhaps inadvertent – sound references apparent during the nearly 56-minute, free-form excursion is when the four horns appear to be vamping on “Frère Jacques” over top of descending guitar chording around the exposition; one of the saxophonists interpolating a brief “A Train” quote in middle section; and quotes from “Ghosts” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” showing up as soloists toss the narrative from one to another before summation. Each time some sort of legato or linear interlude arrives to meld this anguished and agitated performance however, it’s quickly scotched with more angular work. Take Lavelle’s relaxed double tonguing trumpeting facing face Balgochian’s sul ponticello scrubs for instance.

The antithesis of Haberer’s cooperatively unobtrusive rhythms on Pata on the Cadillac, drummer Rosen, who is equally sympathetic elsewhere, doesn’t mind goosing the unfolding narrative during raucous drum solos. Until a mellow section is reached about two-thirds of way through the piece, Lavelle also frequently ups the tension with whinnies and the guitarist further breaks up the time with slurred fingering.

Finally, after Moshe’s and Alvarez’s staccato flute tones signal a transition, the bassist finally abandons his earthbound anchoring role to play a solo of chiming strums that are sourced near the instrument’s scroll. Moving forward with string stretching and scratching, the string players add finesse to the broad, house painter brush strokes Moshe’s and Alvarez’s blaring saxophones and the Lavelle’s plunger smears create as part of stimulating group improv. A satisfying climax is finally reached with human cries of joy mixing with reed screeches and string vibrations.

Both notable and stirring in a different fashion, each of these CDs confirm a plausible path for further little big band explorations.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Bird: 1. The Bird, The Girl and The Donkey II

Personnel: Bird: Matt Lavelle (trumpet and flugelhorn); Blaise Siwula (alto saxophone); Ras Moshe and Remi Alvarez (tenor saxophone and flute): Dom Minasi (guitar); Albey Balgochian (bass) and Jay Rosen (drums)

Track Listing: Pata: 1. All is No Thing 2. On the Cadillac 3. Cat Walk 4. In a Man’s Mind 5. Drifting 6. Nondual Action 7. The Gap 8. Dinka Mood 9. See you, Mara 10. Roter Mund, verrücktes Fest (Red lips, weird party)

Personnel: Pata: Ryan Carniaux (trumpet); Nicolao Valiensi (euphonium); Michael Heupel (flutes); Georg Wissel (alto saxophone); Norbert Stein (tenor saxophone); Albrecht Maurer (violin); Joscha Oetz (bass) and Christoph Haberer (drums)