The Return of Thomas Fonnesbæk

Fonnesbaek001

SHARING / FONNESBÆK: Point of No Return. First Dance. For Paco’. Sharing. BERLIN: The Best Thing for You is Me. FONNESBÆK: Navigation. Tokyo Tower.* FONNESBÆK-KAUFLIN-WILLIAMS: Improvisation. FONNESBÆK: Connections. TYNER: Inception / Thomas Fonnesbæk, bass; Justin Kauflin, pno/*Fender Rhodes; Billy Williams, dm/perc / Storyville 1018449

In my review of Thomas Fonnesbæk’s previous Storyville CD, I praised his virtuosity and particularly his unique approach to his instrument, using it almost like a jazz cello and being “lyrical, inventive, and percussive all at the same time.” When contacting him about this new album he mentioned to me that this one had some “new directions.”

The first track on this album, Point of No Return, is clearly new material for him. It begins slowly and softly, with what sounds like electronics in the background. But the tempo slowly and subtly picks up, Kauflin enters on piano, and the music becomes richer and fuller. Fonnesbæk is his usual self, but here his very complex playing is a bit more subjugated to the piano line. As a tune, Point of No Return is fairly simple, built around three chords, although the group transposes the key later on and Kauflin adds some divergent harmonies in his later solo. The tempo then drops again and the piece ends quietly on an unresolved piano chord.

In First Dance, the trio plays calypso-style rhythm, and again Kauflin dominates the track with his fine piano, but the leader gets his say in a stunning solo of his own. The trend towards a greater integration of the three instruments continues apace. Drummer Billy Williams, who did not play on Fonnesbæk’s previous album, colors the music with excellent cymbal washes as Kauflin flies into the stratosphere.

Although nothing is indicated in the liner notes, I can only assume that For Paco’ is a tribute to jazz-flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia; with its Spanish-flamenco sound, I think that’s a safe guess. Kauflin plays mostly single-note lines on this one in the middle and lower range of the keyboard, Williams plays mostly sticks, and the bassist fills in subtly, not dominating with his strong sound. This is modern jazz the way I really like to hear it: rhythmic, creative, and not lacking in little surprises. The leader’s solo is surprisingly light in touch and tone despite its technical wizardry, almost as if he were trying to simulate guitar playing himself.

Sharing is a quiet ballad in which the trio interestingly “drags” the tempo a little, creating a sort of pullback (if you know what I mean) on the beat. Both pianist and bassist use a lot of space here as well in both ensemble and solo passages. Then comes a real surprise, an old standard by Irving Berlin, The Best Thing for You is Me, played in a fairly straightahead (yet still subtle) swing style by the group. In his own personal way, Fonnesbæk pays tribute to such great swing bassists as Jimmy Blanton and Oscar Pettiford, and Kauflin swings mightily in a quasi-Mel Powell vein. With Navigation we return to slow, moody territory, this time with Fonnesbæk taking the lead and first solo while Kauflin fills in subtly yet creatively.

Tokyo Tower begins as a lumbering sort of jazz waltz, but quickly moves into different variations of 4/4. Kauflin plays the Fender Rhodes on this one, adding a light touch of funkiness without getting too bogged down in fusion nonsense, but then switches back to piano for a great solo. Fonnesbæk really swings on this one, too. The collaborative Improvisation which follows, lasting more than seven minutes, is a tribute to the exceptional instinctive skills of these three musicians. The bassist plays a little lick, fleshes it out as Kauflin weaves his piano around it, and off they go into exploration-land. Williams adds a gong and lots of cymbals in the background to add color to the music, which ends up moving quite slowly, morphing as if progresses.

With Connection, we return to a nice swinging beat, this one in a relaxed middle tempo with the leader playing the opening theme before Kauflin’s solo. The pace increases slightly as the music progresses, however, and both pianist and bassist pick things more into third gear. The finale is McCoy Tyner’s Inception, an uptempo bop romp with an unusual chord structure typical of this great and often-underrated pianist. The band really cooks on this one, with the bassist propelling the rhythm with style and aplomb. A great finale to an overall interesting recording by this outstanding bassist and his obviously first-rate trio!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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