Ronny Graupes’ “Spoom” Returns

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BRIDGE ICES BEFORE ROAD / GRAUPES: Launching Pad. Merge. Sic Erat Scriptum. Ped Xing. Weltecho.* Bridge Ices Before Road. To Whom it May Concern / Christian Weidner, a-sax/*s-sax; Ronny Graupe, gtr; Jonas Westergaard, bs; Christian Lillinger, dm / Shoebill Music SB19016

Guitarist-composer Ronny Graupes’ group Spoom presents here its first new CD in three years. After 15 years working as a trio, Graupes has expanded it to a quartet with the addition of saxist Christian Weidner.

The music heard here is eclectic in style and defies easy categorization. Yes, it’s jazz, but with a sort of techno beat and format. Launching Pad, for instance, opens with a fast, atonal, multi-note motif that “straightens out” once the improvisations begin, but the modal underlying harmony remains. So too does the irregular, difficult-to-pin-down meter, to which drummer Christian Lillinger adds more complexity by playing beats different to those the lead musicians are improvising on. Graupes is the first soloist up, and I really liked his somewhat edgy guitar playing. The newcomer, Weidner, is an “outside” player who also uses a harmonic base for his improvisations. When Graupes is not playing lead, he integrates his guitar into the rhythm section to help propel the music.

Merge is a slow number but not really a ballad. The atonal line flirts with lyricism, played mostly in unison with Graupes. Before long, the bass and drums enter to add complexity to the music. By the 2:20 mark, Graupes has shifted the rhythm pattern once again, to the point where the placid feeling of the opening is completely gone. He alternates solo lines with Weidner as well as playing hard downstrokes to create an unusual effect for a few bars. By the end of the piece, the rhythm pattern is almost impossible to discern with the naked ear.

By the time one reaches the third number, Sic Erat Scriptum, one is aware that this highly creative group has actually merged modern classical and modern jazz patterns to create their own unusual style. There’s a certain Stravinsky-Monk-Ornette Coleman blend going on here that I found immensely intriguing. Spoom seems to be a group that works with complex rhythm patterns but delights in deconstructing and rebuilding them as they go along. Even when the rhythm sounds fairly straightforward at the start of a piece, as for instance the long bass solo by Jonas Westergaard that opens Ped Xing, to which he is joined by Graupes at about the 1:25 mark, the drums almost immediately loosen up and complicate the rhythm with unusual figures that are outside of what Graupes and Westergaard are playing.

In Weltecho, Graupes reverses this trend, starting out with an amorphous beat before moving into a fast, swinging and steady 4. It’s an unusual break from his normal routine, and although the tune itself is harmonically interesting it’s not nearly as complex as the preceding numbers. Weidner switches to soprano sax on this one, but unusually he plays the instrument with an edgy “bite” to the sound as he does his alto. The title tune reverts to his more normal style of hard-to-grasp, serrated atonal themes over an equally complex rhythm. One could give similarly detailed descriptions of the remaining pieces in this set, but you get the idea. This is tricky music, played expertly by a group well attuned to this genre. The final number, To Whom it May Concern, almost sounded to me like a modern, more complex version of John Lewis’ tune Django—ir, at least, it used a similar rising chord pattern in the underlying harmony.

I also liked Graupes’ sense of humor in titling this album. I don’t know how prevalent these signs are in his native Germany, but “Bridge freezes before road surface” is the official state sign of Pennsylvania, being posted on its major highways every half-mile or so in certain areas. This is clearly an interesting, complex and innovative album, one that deserves repeated listening to catch everything in it.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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