Perplexities on Mars

October 4, 2023

JazzhausMusik JHM 297

Jim & The Schrimps
Ain’t No Saint
Intakt CD 397

Two German-affiliated combos present congruent but discrepant views of integrating two saxophonists with bass and drums. The reason for the affiliated description is while Perplexities on Mars (PoM)’s is an all-German quartet, Jim & The Schrimps is made up of two German, plus one Dane and an American.

Actually it’s the American who is best known, since drummer Jim Black has played with everyone from Tim Berne to Gordon Grdina. Meanwhile the other on Ain’t No Saint include Danish alto saxophonist Asger Nissen plus Germans, tenor saxophonist Julius Gawlik and bassist Felix Henkelhausen. Although Julius Gawlik is one of youngster members of the WDR big band, PoM is made up of players who are his contemporaries or younger still. Furthermore while all of the Schrimps’ tunes were composed by Black, everyone contributions to Perseverance. Still tenor/soprano saxophonist Christopher Kunz, who has played with the likes of Tony Buck, composed half the numbers. Tenor saxist Max Hirth, wrote two others, while drummer Tom Friedrich with whom Hirth works in other bands composed one, while bassist Stephan Deller, who has recorded with Steffen Roth, contributes another.

While Black who has been a bandleader for several decades doesn’t dominate the sessions’ dozen tunes, his resourcefully crafted drumming is certainly omnipresent throughout. So are the unbeatable walking bass vibrations of Henkelhausen. However the tracks which lengthen as the disc evolves provide sufficient space for everyone. A tune such as “Heyscram” for instance may contain an agitated drum solo with rim shots, paradiddles and ricocheting clatters, but it arises in the context of a frailing bass line and up and down honks and slurs from the horns. The subsequent “The Once” begins with woody a capella bass string vibrations that introduce flowing reed snarls as the track is completed with pinpointed drum pumps. Nissen and Gawlik sometimes project vibrant textures in lockstep. They expose vamping expositions or accompaniment as needed, at points spewing textures at different pitches and tempos until the two intersect. More often than not, however, they set up a dialogue. Among the fragmented honks and trills, Gawlik can create Big Jay McNeely-like blasts as on “Asgingforit”, as well as more mellow, but just as thickened expressions on other tracks. Nissen on the other hand is more likely to outline a melody with trills and flutters, “as with “Surely” and maintains horizontal interface even as the tenorist interjects and ferocious reed extensions until both descend into near-toneless breaths. Perhaps the best definition of quartet consensus is on “Schrimps BBQ”, where free-form drum ruffs and double bass twangs back a series of reed variations with hearty blats from the tenor saxophonist and quicksilver bites from the alto. Irregular sax vibrations, flattement and smears fade into the final sequence with a single drum stick pop signaling a descent into quiet.

If Schrimps are featured on the other CD then PoM salutes the “Shmoo” on its disc. More than 10½ minutes long, that improv is stuffed full of reed undulations and doits stretching into altissimo scrams and leeching into an expanded drum solo and multiple bass string buzzes, ending with saxophone overblowing and rhythm shakes. Hirth and Kunz follow similar strategies as Nissen and Gawlik, with harmonized riffs, dual honks and interlocking glissandi. Sometimes, as on “I Do It”, a crepuscule effect is suggested as the low-pitched reeds curve around one another as they slither up the scale providing a harsh contrast to Deller’s hard string pumps. However when both play tenor saxophone it’s difficult to ascribe solo honors. For instance the horizontal motion expressed by both on “Guhou” is broken up with hard reed bites from one horn and higher pitched but speedier tonguing from the other. Following a brief drum break it’s Friedrich’s Mylar slaps which sum up the narrative directing it towards the end. Deller wrote “Song for Bella”, Perseverance’s concluding ballad, with string elaborations throughout and a reflective ending as the saxes vibrate around him. However his studied string work both strummed and bow-sliced is just as important in maintaining cadence and linearity on most tracks. There are points where bowed bass lines and cymbal drags mute discordant reed scowls to produce softer finales.

Trying to integrate buoyancy and weightiness, the members of PoM realize their goals for the most part. But there’s a sense that even more will be achieved when all four are more seasoned and comfortable playing as a unit. It’s still a notable first effort. As for the Schrimps, Ain’t No Saint too could have been improved with fewer, long tracks. However perhaps because of the extra input from an improv veteran The Schrimps have good reason to stand tall on their first effort.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Ain’t: 1. The Set-Up (for Baikida Carroll) 2. Snaggs 3. Asgingforit 4. Crashbash 5. Riversgardens 6. Bellsimmer 7. Surely 8. Schrimps BBQ 9. No Pull 10. Heyscram 11. The Once 12. Bowerfield

Personnel: Ain’t: Asger Nissen (alto saxophone); Julius Gawlik (tenor saxophone); Felix Henkelhausen (bass) and Jim Black (drums)

Track Listing: Perseverance: 1. Synchronschwimmen im All 2. Back to Space 3. Guhou 4. I Do It 5. April Fool’s Day 6. Shmoo 7. Osho 8. Song for Bella

Personnel: Perseverance: Max Hirth (tenor saxophone); Christopher Kunz (tenor and soprano saxophones); Stephan Deller (bass) and Tom Friedrich (drums)