BALDES-HELLMÜLLER-SISERA: Rabe isst Pasta [The Raven Eats Pasta]. HELLMÜLLER: Herbst-Zeit-Lose. Noam, LuLa. BALDES: Slider. Sufi. BALDES-HELLMÜLLER: The way out in. SISERA: Ambrosia / Bloom Effect: Jochen Baldes, t-sax/a-sax; Franz Hellmüller, gtr; Patrick Sommer, bs; Tony Renold, dm / Leo Records CD LR 897
This is the debut CD of an avant-garde jazz quartet out of Switzerland. According to the publicity sheet, “The essence of the group’s vision is to play a hybrid form of jazz that blurs the boundaries between sophisticated compositions and improvisational flair…modern and forward-looking music strongly connected with what went before.”
Of all the CDs I’ve received recently from Leo Records to consider for review, this is clearly the outstanding prize. One thing I immediately found interesting was that the opening number, The Raven Eats Pasta, uses a sort of stiffish, Stravinsky-like beat, surprisingly similar to the way Stan Kenton’s progressive jazz orchestra played in the 1940s. Kenton was crucified by jazz critics for this at the time, but he stubbornly stuck to his guns and created a loud but very exciting blend of pop hits, screaming brass and rich saxophone blends rooted by the baritone. In Bloom Effect, the sound of the group is rooted in Jochen Baldes’ tenor saxophone and the bass of Patrick Sommer. After the opening theme statement, however, drummer Tony Renold breaks up the beat by fractioning the time while guitarist Franz Hellmüller, who judging by the number of compositions bearing his name is the musical heart of the group, plays his solo. Thank goodness, he is a jazz guitarist and not a rock guitarist. (Sorry, folks, but too much of this whining rock crap just doesn’t belong in jazz, not even avant-garde jazz. Ornette Coleman took those elements about as far as one could go in modern jazz without making ot sound too much like a Heavy Metal band, and even he sometimes crossed the line for me.)
But make no mistake, all four musicians in this superb quartet are excellent improvisers. More importantly, they listen to one another; each solo builds on what has come previously, and somehow they make their solos complement the written portions of each score. Despite their adventurous harmony and rhythm, Bloom Effect thus manages to create whole pieces that have structure and form, yet still challenge the listener. The second number on this CD, Herbst-Zeit-Lose, is an excellent example, using an amorphous meter in the drums over which the other three musicians overlay a simple but effective lead line that tries to coalesce the beat into something more regular. The tension thus created between Renold’s very busy drums and the rest of the group is the heart of this piece; there’s very little improvisation going on here beyond the rhythm (except for a bit after the 4:30 mark), but there doesn’t have to be. Sometimes the composition is the message. This track reminded me very much of some of Coleman’s Sound Museum music.
In Noam the group gives us amorphous music using much more reverb effects than in the two previous tracks; indeed, this one is practically swimming in echo, which makes it more of a mood piece; but Bloom Effect doesn’t believe in soft, mushy jazz, so by the 1:20 mark we hear a loud crescendo, following which there is a bit of a rock beat, but thankfully more like the old jazz-rock of the middle ‘60s (think of Ramsey Lewis, Don Ellis or the Electric Flag) than like the heavy-metal crap of the 1970s and ‘80s. Curiously, I felt as if the melody that evolved here bore a slight resemblance to Barry Manilow’s Copacabana song, but then, suddenly, at the 3:50 mark the tempo really relaxes and we get a bass solo with little guitar fills from Hellmüller while Renold plays soft cymbal washes in the background, and the reverb has disappeared by now. This is almost a mini-suite or at least a tripartite piece built on almost classical lines.
But the best thing about Bloom Effect is that you can never tell what they’re going to play as you move from track to track. Every piece is different in mood, feeling and structure, yet one feels an odd sense of unity to the set as a whole. Perhaps they really do think of the sets they play as being sort of jazz suites; at least, that is the effect their music had on me as a listener. And as I say, despite all of the innovations one hears, their music is oddly pleasant. It has just enough of a retro feel to it to make it sound a bit more comfortable than the average avant-garde group, but also enough innovation to keep listeners on their toes. In Slider, it is the sudden shift of gears to a slow 3/4 at the four-minute mark, during which time Hellműller plays a wonderfully relaxed, almost genial guitar solo while the bass supports him and the drums go on their own merry way.
Sufi, described by Manfred Papst in the booklet as “a celebration of spirituality and subtle humor,” almost sounds like one of those 1970s pieces that one heard from bands like Return to Forever or some of the better cool jazz musicians of the late 1980s. Baldes switches to soprano sax on this one, but plays it with a full, rich tone that almost makes it sound like an alto. (Perhaps it is, but if so it is played for the most part very high up in its range.) At about the six-minute mark we suddenly dip back into reverb as bassist Sommer plays an excellent bowed solo while the guitar slides around on the upper ranges of its strings. This is extraordinary meditative music.
The remaining tracks explore other little avenues and alleys on the jazz path, such as The way out in with its asymmetric meter, constantly shifting as the melody wends its way along, the texture thinning out to another bass-drum duo with soft little guitar fills, eventually leading to a guitar solo accompanied by bass and drums. And everything coalesces, with a slight increase in tempo, when the tenor sax moves in for the final chorus. Lu-La is another ambient piece with reverb; oddly enough, this piece was written in tribute to the Lucerne-Lausanne railroad link. You’d never guess it…until it suddenly breaks out into a funky dance beat at the 5:30 mark!
The best thing I can say about this album, and I really mean this, is that I could listen to Bloom Effect all day and never get bored, annoyed, or tired of them. Their music is challenging and relaxing at the same time; they’ve mastered the art of pushing the envelope while still creating balance and structure. Nothing sounds trite just as nothing sounds as if it were just being done for shock effect.
These are MUSICIANS, and excellent ones at that, creating musical meditative states for the mind.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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