Florian Werther Quartett

December 20, 2022

JazzHausMusik JHM 291 CD

Alex Massa Plays Well with Others
Adventure #3
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Compact combos of trumpet-guitar-bass and percussion create congenial if somewhat overly restrained sessions, which maintain a Funk-Jazz groove, but don’t venture too far from the mainstream.

A brief (slightly more than 30 minute) five track resumé of Chicago trumpeter Alex Massa’s international travels to Iceland, New Orleans and Winnipeg (!), on Adventure #3 the journeyman player is backed by fellow locals guitarist Dave Miller, bassist Anton Hatwich, and drummer/percussionist Isaiah Spencer. More extensive with 10 tracks, but that much closer to unoffensive sounds is the quartet of German bassist Florian Werther. Someone who works in a variety of bands He’s backed by other musical craftsmen: trumpeter/flugelhornist Heiko Hubmann, guitarist Stefan Kowollik and drummer/percussionist Jens Biehl.

With every note in place during Adventure #3, the themes run through a boogaloo, airy story telling and relaxed nightclub moods without wide differences. Masa demonstrates his mastery of open horn flutters on “Sex Hair” as well as relaxed and descriptive lyricism with “Natasha” and other tunes. But his most powerful and original statement involves strangled grace notes on the concluding “Stöðvarfjörður”. Otherwise the disc is very much a sum of its parts. Kowollik’s frails, twangs and comping fit within the half-sweet/half-beat tradition of stylists like George Freeman. Hatwich not only provides a constant steadying presence, but introduces “North Prieur & Kerlerec” with a peerless line that preserve the narrative enough to open it up to brass squeaks and peeps and harder string flanges. As for Spencer, his shuffles and ruffs maintain a groove without bringing attention to himself, while cymbal shakes, ratamacues and drags coupled with Hatwich’s walking bass line allow the two Iceland-celebrating pieces to connect. The rhythm section comments, string filigree and final ascending triplets help maintain the brief introductory tune and expanded the final one as representative Jazz extensions rather than foreign snapshots.

The situation is a bit dicier with Innenstadtjazz. In a bit for popularism, Werther and the others appear to try out many styles, from Funk to Pop Jazz to Reggae to Soul without digging too deep into any of them. Throughout Kowollik seems to have mastered note-perfect chicken scratch rhythm guitar licks that could have got him a gig at Stax-Volt, while the bassist’s fluid thump makes almost every track a foot-tapper. Popping drum beats intensify the tunes as if Biehl apprenticed with the JBs, while never getting out of hand. Meanwhile Hubmann’s brass licks provide most of the harmonic and melodic orientation with his mellow tone sometimes approaching Latin brightness or attaining near-doleful ballad modes. Most narratives rely on the candied blending of graceful trumpet or flugelhorn flutters and soaring guitar licks with finger-tip pressure. Bass, electric or acoustic and drums keep the tunes from becoming cloying. Yet it’s really only “Der verrückte Friseur” the penultimate “Ü30 Party” and the final “Anschin’d Reggae” that raise the performance temperature. Taken allegro instead of andante, the first is notable for guitar call-and-response to triplet brass extensions which evolve over a repeated bass pattern. These triplets are also featured on “Ü30 Party” where a tandem thumping bass line and chunky guitar licks maintain powerful, swing. Meanwhile the final tune gives Werther space for a long-lined and groove-oriented solo as Biehl’s steel-drum-like pops and clicking guitar notes provide the proper Caribbean feel.

Both albums are notable sessions of pleasant swing. But more sloppiness in the playing which might have suggested more emotional attachment would have moved the commitment levels higher.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Adventure: 1. Sex Hair 2. Natasha 3. North Prieur & Kerlerec 4. Norðurljós 5. Stöðvarfjörður

Personnel: Adventure: Alex Massa (trumpet); Dave Miller (guitar); Anton Hatwich (bass) and Isaiah Spencer (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Innenstadtjazz: 1. Lissabon 2. Scowollik 3. Down in Lock 4. Die Hopfung stribt zulezt 5. Stringtango 6. Dreimal Schwarzer Kater 7. Der verrückte Friseur 8. Ewig währt am Längsten 9. Ü30 Party 10. Anschin’d Reggae

Personnel: Innenstadtjazz: Heiko Hubmann (trumpet and flugelhorn); Stefan Kowollik (guitar); Florian Werther (bass and electric) bass) and Jens Biehl (drums and percussion)