April 27, 2016
Mads La Cour’s Almugi
Why Play Jazz RS 019
Boomslang Records NO #
Part of the Northern European musical development and Diaspora, these quartets offer a measured and frantic take on modern improvisation. Quartet, the more retrained of the two, is an all-Danish affair, whereas Amok Amor features an ad-hoc grouping of German, Swedish and American origin. Of course modern cross currents are such that some of the band members have worked with players in the other bands.
Lead by cornetist Mads La Cour, who composed all nine tunes, the Quaret is just one version of ensembles named for Almugi, an ancient Scandinavian word that means free men of the Kingdom. Another features an octet, and a third is a duo with drummer Anders Mogensen. Slotted in the numerical centre, this Almugi quartet is filled out by clarinetist Lars Greve, also known for his solo playing and work with percussionist Sven-Åke Johansson; Kasper Tom Christiansen, who leads his own bands as well as working with Germans such as bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall and tenor saxophonist Philipp Gropper. Besides partnering Christiansen, Groper and Mahall in Fusk, bassist Andreas Lang also is in the groups of Gropper and alto saxophonist Wanja Slavin, a member of Amok Amor. Swedish bass player Petter Eldh anchors that band, which also includes two busy, well-known players: German drummer Christian Lillinger, who leads the Grund and (with Groper) Hyperactive Kid bands; and American trumpeter Peter Evans, occupied in groups led by figures as disparate as Metal-Jazz drummer Weasel Walter and saxophone statesman Evan Parker.
Sounding at times as if it was recorded in California not Copenhagen, the Almugi Quartet is all about procedural balance, rarely if ever probing atonal highs or dissonant lows. However like a bespoke suit that piques with its discriminating detailing, the moderated and unusual pairing of cornet and clarinet produces an airy synthesis, perfectly suited to La Cour’s compositions. This can take the form of breathless harmonic interchanges from tremolo reed and muted brass impositions on “Araber”, or spicing the light swing of “Baba Ganoush” with a husky clarinet solo complemented by acute arpeggios from the cornet. Like a cantilevered structure “Sir Dance a Lot” is sutured together from many parts with the relaxed feel and low energy quivering from the brass players succeeded by broken time sense courtesy of the drummer, until the trumpeter takes a smutty solo that after a false ending, spurred by Christiansen’s pumps, reverts to the head.
Oddly enough the piece that appears at first as if it’s going to be most experimental with its reed squeaks and Lang’s woody string-pulling resonation turns out be almost conventional. After an atmospheric contrapuntal face-off between Greve’s slurry clarinet and a bowed bass line, “Polka” become exactly as advertised, jolly dance music which brings up visions of women in full shirts and men wearing festooned white shirts leaping in unison. The final “Emilie” then unrolls with a sense of inevitability, as each quartet member pushes the simple line to its logical conclusion.
Although a quartet consisting of two German a Swede and an American shouldn’t be as logical, Amok Amor is. That’s because all the members are thoroughgoing professionals and like other motley collections, personified in films such as The Dirty Dozen, the four have quickly fused into what sounds like a working band. At the same time, and perhaps like The Dirty Dozen, the last word you would associate with Amok Amor is subtle. Plus because of the front line – alto saxophone and trumpet verses clarinet and cornet – the interactions are tougher, harder and more intense compared to those on the other CD. In this context at least, Eldh’s pulse is always insistent and Lillinger’s drumming fast and furious. Tunes such as “Amor” and “Sons of Engels-Marx” speedily accelerate from zero to 200 mph like an auto racing in a car-chase film. Playing with laser-like ferocity and color, Slavin’s tone is mid-way between Hard Bop and Ornette Coleman’s and when his slurs mate with Evans’ bugle-like advances, the ghosts of early Coleman tunes like “Ramblin’” haunt the band as distinctly as Marx’s spectre of Communism haunted Europe.
Given a chance, in contrast, Amok Amor can be likened to a film director specializing in action flicks, who can also direct more personal drams. “Mani 3 – Achse des Guten”, the longest and only real mid-tempo tune, shifts back and forth between understated and overkill. Exposing both temperance and inventiveness it’s a group effort that succeeds via modified cooperation not individual showiness. Additionally, like the butterfly crouching within the caterpillar’s body, coiled energy is available to burst through the cocoon of moderato beginnings. Lillinger’s thumps initiate this skin shredding on “The Resistance”, which shifts time and tempo a few times. Leading the way to call-and-response vamps is a walking bass line plus high-jumper-like leaps from Evans, who evidentially has never played a lick that he can’t flatten or prod to an even higher plane.
The quarter brings the session to the end with the same sort of Europeanized rhythm section bounce and what in other circumstances could be likened to amphetamine-fuelled dynamic detonations. But the key to the band – and the humor that matches its excesses – is the mocking title of “Als Sozialist Geboren”. Featuring consistent percussion ratcheting, and the saxophonist and trumpeter vying with each other to produce the tauter or more brittle tone, this band strategy satisfies because it has produced tones that are “from each according to his ability” and made part of the band’s program “to each according to his needs.”
Whether you wish to be pummeled or petted each of these quartets plays music to posses you.
Track Listing: Quartet: 1. Long John 2. Spam 3. Allmogen 4. Baba Ganoush 5. Sir Dance a Lot 6. I Jules 7. Araber 8. Polka 9. Emilie
Personnel: Quartet: Mads la Cour (cornet); Lars Greve (clarinet and bass clarinet); Andreas Lang (bass) and Kasper Tom Christiansen (drums)
Track Listing: Amor: 1. Manipulieren II 2. Amor 3. Sons of Engels-Marx 4. The Resistance 5. Rowk 6. Als Sozialist Geboren 7. Mani 3 – Achse des Guten 8. Amok
Personnel: Amor: Peter Evans (trumpet); Wanja Slavin (alto saxophone); Petter Eldh (bass) and Christian Lillinger (drums)