Onno Govaert/Kristjan Martinsson/Luis Vicente/Marcelo dos Reis

April 16, 2017

In Layers
FMR CD 427-1116

Le Pot
Everest Records er_cd_083

Pastels, shading and, textures are the defining factors in these European Chamber-Jazz excursions. The sessions can be compared to Impressionistic paintings dedicated to heightened contrast between colors and perceptive blending rather than narrative. But just as connoisseurs have no difficulty distinguishing a Monnet from a Manet, so too there is subtle difference between the music of these small groups.

A long-constituted ensemble, Swiss-based Le Pot – trumpeter Manuel Mengis, pianist Hans-Peter Pfammatter, guitarist Manuel Troller and percussionist Lionel Friedli – have conceived as Zade as the third trilogy of albums, with eight group compositions balancing light and darkness, time and tempo in the form of reflective soundscapes. Much younger in affiliation and dissemination, the Amsterdam-based quartet on In Layers uses six instant compositions to define its identity, like art school graduates working in different creative media. Unlike the homogenous Swiss group on the other CD, only drummer Onno Govaert is Dutch. Pianist Kristjan Martinsson is Icelandic, while trumpeter Luis Vicente and acoustic guitarist Marcelo Dos Reis are Portuguese.

Their CD can also be likened to one of those fantastic fusion sandwiches that are sophisticatedly crafted so the flavor of each ingredient is present when biting into it. However like a thin layer of mayo spread on certain breads, it`s hard to follow Dos Reis’ contributions at all times since the other instruments are played at higher volume. For instance during the concluding “Underdrawing” the folksy string strums are soon overshadowed by the intense theme coloration that comes from harsh trumpet flutter tones and centred piano patterns. Govaert’s grounded drum rolls hold together the exposition on “Tempera”, with Vicente’s whiny brass stutters and Martinsson’s inner piano rumbles and key clicks making more of a sonic impression than the guitar parts. Other tunes play up the communicative power of the band though, with the trumpeter producing catch-in-your-throat lyricism on the nocturne that is “Pentimenti” with the most atonal probing showcased on “Varnish”, with piano and drums heading for, but pulling back before they reach Pop sounds. All and all, the most fully realized performance occurs early on with “Fresco”. Here Dos Reis’s slurred fingering and Martinsson’s sharp bottom notes when coupled with intense bites from the trumpeter and a rhythmic build up from Govaert, figuratively suggest that this group of musical impressionists is behind the easels ready to debut impressive, but more harder-edged art next time.

The same could be said for Le Pot since Zade is the third-part of a triptych, which like the collective creations of a painters’ guild, the entire group has been detailing for years. These can’t be compared to serial items however, since each CD can be assayed on its own merits. Quieter and more formal than the tunes on the other disc, at points its eight tracks can be likened to eight miniature canvases on display in an art gallery that can be scrutinized for common and contrasting painterly detail.

As a point of demarcation, one linked detail is that of expositions taken at quieter volumes. Manuel Toller’s acoustic guitar plinks are more audible than Dos Reis’ however. That said, although Pfammatter’s touch is sometimes so effervescent that he could be utilizing the feather-on-string plucks of a harpsichord rather than a piano, there are stretches on tunes such as “Latibule” and the concluding “Súton”, where it isn’t clear to which set of strings continuous buzzing should be ascribed. Each is contrasted with bright or burrowing trumpet tones, although a similar face-off enlivens “Wirrwarr” where Mengis’ dog-whistle-like squeals are contrapuntally challenged by Friedli’s cymbal buzzing and Pfammatter’s inner piano explorations.

Most of the tunes on Zade are more formal than those on the other disc. But like a comparison between pure Swiss dairy products and those mixed with ingredients from other cultures, as on the other CD, the homogenization also allows the members of Le Pot to be more abrasive and cooler in their improvisations. This is especially apparent on “Open Out”, the set’s more-than-10-minute centerpiece. Although invested with a sense of Alpine chill, due to slowly blending the translucent qualities of stopped piano keys and cymbal resonations, there’s also a certain relaxed folksiness about is, especially when Pfammatter’s precise theme elaboration is broken up with an occasional vibrating drum pop.

Like two vernissages, these CDs allow us to experience high quality and not dissimilar art for the first time. Both oeuvres are splendid on their own, but like Picasso’s Blue Period work, hints abound that intriguing creations will continue to be on these bands’ dual agendas.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Layers: 1. Glaze 2. Fresco 3. Varnish 4. Tempera 5. Pentimenti 6. Underdrawing

Personnel: Layers: Luis Vicente (trumpet); Kristjan Martinsson (piano); Marcelo Dos Reis (acoustic guitar) and Onno Govaert (drums)

Track Listing: Zade: Track Listing: 1, Take Shelter 2. Midday 3. Under the Hornbeam 4. Wirrwarr 5. Testareal 6. Latibule 7.Open Out 8. Súton

Personnel: Zade: Manuel Mengis (trumpet); Hans-Peter Pfammatter (piano); Manuel Troller acoustic guitar) and Lionel Friedli (percussion)