Antti Lötjönen Quintet East

June 6, 2023

We Jazz WJCD 49

The Zebra Street Band
Trytone TT559-091

Sometimes when advanced Jazz and improvised music gets overtly serious it’s worthwhile to recall that its roots go back to marching bands and party sounds. That’s why these session are so notable. The compositions of trombonist/tubaist Salvoandrea Lucifora for the Netherlands-based Zebra Street Band and those of Finnish bassist Antti Lötjönen, interpreted by his quintet, are rhythmically exciting good time showcases that project without pandering.

Beginning with a brassy fanfare half-way between marches and Trad Jazz, Circus/Citadel soon evolves into a swelling andante romp, paced by Lötjönen, who is involved in many of his country’s more progressive units. The stop-time, swelling and deflating theme, which is further amplified throughout the three-part title track, is driven by junkeroo percussion and cymbal claps from drummer Joonas Riippa, fluid interjections of baritone saxophone honks from Mikko Innanen and tenor saxophone swells from Jussi Kannaste that joined by Verneri Pohjola’s trumpet. create unison polyphony that wrap up the piece. Pohjola’s solo showcase comes during the concluding “It Goes On”, a slippery mid-range line. Following another processional tutti, the trumpeter creates an obbligato of muted flutters and bent notes slowly moving up the scale, as drum clumps and bass thumps preserve the melody.

The rest of the session moves along the same lines. Some sequences involve big band section work-like unison harmonies; others are more concerned with sophisticated dialogues among first the saxophonists and then with one or another and the trumpeter. Switching among alto, sopranino and baritone saxophones, Innanen is particularly cunning this way, with forays into spetrofluctuation, dot-dash intervals and pressurized slurs. At points he can burst into Dolphyese smears and scoops; elsewhere his tone blends with the other horns for expositions that sound like the themes for “Jesus Christ, Superstar” or “Pop Goes the Wesel” with trumpet breaks leading the way. In spite of exploratory instrumental asides, earnestness is expressed along with energy. Riffs, peeps and thumps aside, each track fastens on appropriate horizontal motion, while captivating harmonies aren’t pushed aside by pure fun.

A similar scenario is invoked on Shirwku with group identification established with a hip-hop/brass band mashup on the first piece. But unlike Circus/Citadel, tracks are more numerous, no chordal instruments are involved, and the funky arrangements by Lucifora, who has played with Burton Green, depend on baritone saxophonist John Dikeman’s vamping continuum as well as the ruffs and clatters from dual percussionists Fabio Galeazzi and Onno Govaert. At the same time full advantage is taken of instrumental parallelism. The baritone sax can be depended on for blasting subterranean snorts, while tenor saxophonist Andrius Dereviancenko frequently outlines melody extensions. The trombonist’s reflective plunger strains provide coloration and oomph, while Alistair Payne’s breezy trumpet portamento provides thematic story-telling and sequence extensions.

This become more pronounced during the second half of the program as on “Cacta” and “White Stones”. Continuous patterning from Dikeman’s funky honks and güiro-like scratches and shakes from the percussionists on the former goose Dereviancenko to altissimo split tones and speed up the narrative on the former. On the latter, baritone honks and drum paradiddles precede a Balkan-style rhythmic dance, where riffing call-and-response leads to a joyous banda-like solo from the trombonist. These sashays from riffing sequences to group narratives that preserve horizontal motion, characterize most of the tunes. Reed spitting intensity, brass growls and the horn players ascending to the top of their respective ranges are part of the mix. So as are individual vamps cut off before they become dissonant. The penultimate “Moving Tree” encapsulate this in miniature. Cool school tenor saxophone lines meet baritone burbles, as a vibrant trumpet part brushes against percussion patterning, Still, the conclusion maintain the joyous marching feel propelled by concentrated horn riffs and percussion crunches that characterizes the whole disc.

It appears that these two European groups have created positive and powerful sounds without resorting to simplicity or silliness. Both manage to prove that sparkling sounds can be as potent as solemn ones.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Circus: 1. Circus/Citadel Pt. I 2.Circus/Citadel Pt. II 3. Circus/Citadel Pt. III 4. Ode to the Undone 5. Defenestration 6. (for) Better People 7. It Goes On

Personnel: Circus: Verneri Pohjola (trumpet, Otamatone); Mikko Innanen (alto, sopranino and baritone saxophones, oboe); Jussi Kannaste (tenor saxophone); Antti Lötjönen (bass, bBuzz) and Joonas Riippa (drums)

Track Listing: Shirwku: 1. Levanzo 2. Nisran 3. Searching for D 4. The Wedding Call 5. Cacta 6. White Stones 7. Argo 8. Sexy Turtles 9. Moving Tree 10. And then we played those clouds away

Personnel: Shirwku: Alistair Payne (trumpet); Salvoandrea Lucifora (trombone, tuba); Andrius Dereviancenko (tenor saxophone); John Dikeman (baritone saxophone) and Fabio Galeazzi and Onno Govaert (drums and percussion)