Absolutely Sweet Marie

Wherever You Roam
Tiger Moon Records TMR 008

With the number of Jazz releases given over to interpretations of the Great American Songbook as well as those recasting versions of more recent pop, rap and R&B tunes, why not use Bob Dylan’s oeuvre as the basis for instrumental improvisation? That’s why the Berlin based quartet Absolutely Sweet Marie (ASM) was formed and this fascinating but frustrating disc is its third release.

Wherever You Roam is fascinating because it provides a window onto how some of Berlin’s most accomplished youngish improvisers can move familiar and unfamiliar songs into new areas as they change our perception of them. The frustration arises though since each of the 16 interpretations lasts between a little less than two minutes to, in a couple of case, slightly more than five. Such abrupt performances don’t allow much room for agile transformation. Technical skill is proven since each player has a notable history. ASM’s chief architect, tenor saxophonist Alexander Beierbach works with Nicolas Schulze and Hannes Zerbe’s orchestra. Trombonist Matthias Müller has recorded with Frank Paul Schubert; drummer Max Andrzejewski works with Julien Desprez, while trumpeter Steffen Faul plays with Uli Jennessen.

Essentially the song reconstitution works best when the material is less familiar, preventing comparison. Because of the instrumentation as well, orientation is towards brass band and Trad Jazz affiliations, with detours into Jungle Band-like emphasis, Salvation Army band marches and some New Orleans-style Second Line beats from Andrzejewski. Notably, “New Morning” becomes a soulful showcase with stop-time variations and bluesy echoes from Müller’s slides, flutters and plunger extensions. Saxophone slurs and drum rat tat tats extend the dawdling theme of “Gates of Eden”, while “Cold Irons Bound’ swings between Rock and R&B with call-and-response patterns among the horns before exploding into a crescendo of high-pitched brass trills as Andrzejewski’s nerve beats and a long drum roll preserve the rhythm. Still Beierbach’s lonesome reed flutters on “Ring Them Bells” show the concept at its best. As the brass harmonizes behind him and the drum thumps, he whittles down the theme to bare essence, exposing its complexity as well as its cheer.

A congenial left turn from the numerous pop and Jazz icon celebrations, ASM can be praised for originality. But considering the talent involved a more cerebral dig into the tunes at greater length would make future volumes more impressive.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. With God On Our Side 2. Cold Irons Bound 3. Boots of Spanish Leather 4. Ballad of Hollis Brown 5. Ring Them Bells 6. New Morning 7. I and I 8. Nettie Moore 9. The Times They Are A-Changin’ 10. Gates Of Eden 11. One Too Many Mornings 12. The Mighty Quinn 13. Long and Wasted Years

Personnel: Steffen Faul (trumpet); Matthias Müller (trombone); Alexander Beierbach (tenor saxophone) and Max Andrzejewski (drums)