Kasper Tom 5

I Do Admire Things That Are Only What They Are
Barefoot Records BFREC 046CD

By Ken Waxman

Perhaps an inadvertent affirmation of why despite recent troubles the European Union (EU) isn’t likely to dissolve, is this high energy CD by Århus, Denmark-based drummer Kasper Tom. Part of this session’s appeal rests on contributions from Polish trumpeter Tomasz Dąbrowski and German clarinetist Rudi Mahall. Fellow Danes, trombonist Petter Hängsel and bassist Jens Mikkel Madsen add up to 5.

Unlike the Danish residents, Berlin-based Mahall is like an Old West gunslinger constantly crossing borders. But like laws that affect all parts of the EU, it’s the melding of disparate textures that make this disc notable, though there’s space for distinctive solos. “Hvid” for instance, features layered horn tones that open up into parallel contrapuntal licks from the clarinetist and trumpeter, which like Balkan country borders are repositioned frequently, Polyphonic improvising is highlighted on “Vranjo”, as Mahall’s billowing tone sharpens to meld with staccato trumpet bites, backed by Madsen’s measured plucks. Moderated harmonies from the clarinetist provide the climax.

Besides, Mahall, Hängsel, a member of bands such as the Horse Orchestra, is the ear-catcher here. Often his solos cycle through so many slide styles that it’s like watching a teenager auditioning facial expressions in a mirror. “Vanity”, for example finds him leading a sour-sounding Aylerian march where his variations forcefully mesh with Tom’s rhythmic pulse; finally loosening up the theme with rugged tailgate excavations. Like members of an out-of-control brass band, Hängsel, and Dąbrowski whine and puff at the top of “Bigos in Bydgoszcz”, but their contemporary sophistication is soon evident as the trombonist’s pulsating blats are partnered by stop-time half-valve effects from the trumpeter.

Tom steps forward with appropriate emphasis at points. He confirms the martial beat on “Vanity”; and ensures that “Play or Die” concludes with the kind of from-below strength with which Art Blakey goaded the Jazz Messengers. Switching inferences from East to West coast, his sympathetic pulsing on “Nye Spor” confirms its resemblance to Cool Jazz. Constructed with chamber-music precision the tune’s harmonic concordance is based on tension and release with its shape determined by blending contralto clarinet lines, tremolo trombone slurs and focused cymbal stings.

There isn’t much chance that Tom will become an EU civil servant, but by creating compositions whose shape and resolution reflects pan-Europeanism, he’s advanced good politics as well as good music.

Track Listing: Bigos in Bydgoszcz; Nye Spor; Life; Play or Die; Hvid; Vanity; Vranjo

Personnel: Tomasz Dąbrowski: trumpet; Petter Hängsel: trombone; Rudi Mahall: clarinet, bass clarinet; Jens Mikkel Madsen: bass; Kasper Tom: drums

—For The New York City Jazz Record April 2016