Friday, 18 January 2008

Max Nagl with Bernstein, Akchotè and Jones

I've been listening to a lot of hatART releases lately - mainly Ellery Eskelin, but a fair bit of Dave Liebman too - and it set me wondering why I never seem to get anything from the label to review. This is the only one I could find, and whilst it's pretty decent I wouldn't call it a classic.

I remember once seeing Akchotè playing in a record shop in New York. Crouched at one end of the room he played some pretty far out solo guitar music, nothing like the tightly regimented music demands of him here. This is one of those dry takes on old jazz that everybody from Mike Westbrook and Franz Koglmann to The Vienna Art Orchestra seem to have recorded for Werner X Uerhilinger's iconic imprint.

Worth a listen if you can still find it, and with so much of today's music increasingly uninspiring I'd almost be enthusiastic to hear the more recent live CD by the same group. Almost...

MAX NAGL with Steven Bernstein, Nôel Akchotè and Brad Jones
Big Four
hatOLOGY (585)

Big Four; Teahouse Tango; Cats And Dogs; Long River; Mona; Dwarf; Reader Advisor; Lullaby; Squeeze Me; Horseradish; Muggles 2000; New Viper Dance; Lullaby Remix.

Steven Bernstein (t); Max Nagl (as); Nôel Akchotè (g); Bradley Jones (b).
Recorded December 2001

A few years ago, this new disc by Austrian saxophonist Max Nagl would have been given the tag ‘PoMo’ for its bold take on tradition. In truth it is really an extension of the post-Giuffre chamber jazz that hatHUT records have long been identified with. Think of Franz Koglmann’s A White Line and you’ll know the terrain we’re in. What is intriguing about this particular group is the way in which such potentially conflicting voices bend towards the greater need for a disciplined group sound.

The project is a contemporary take on the music recorded in Paris in 1940 by Sidney Bechet’s Big Four. Bernstein (playing conventional rather than slide trumpet) plays Muggsy Spanier without either parody or loss of identity, the already earthy declamatory style heard in Sex Mob being perfectly suited to the challenge. Nagl’s own Dolphy-esque sound is given free rein throughout, and only occasionally does the music sound a little too self-consciously retro.

There are far more rough edges than in the more austere music of Koglmann, largely due to the impressive Brad Jones, whose authoritative bass stretches time and harmony at will, and is the music’s pulse. Akchotè’s chameleon-like career covers many bases, but his role here is the most shocking I’ve heard so far simply by because it is so conventional. He plays in a fluent post-Jim Hall style, only occasionally throwing in a few shards of noise to add tension and remind us that this is new music.

Two titles survive from the original Big Four’s small recorded legacy (‘Lazy River’ and ‘Squeeze Me’), but it is fair to say that the spirit is maintained in the remaining Nagl and Bernstein originals. The final track is a remix of the album’s most lyrical piece ‘Lullaby’, startlingly enhanced by dubby echoes and thunderclaps straight out of King Tubby’s Jamaican studio circa 1976. Not even this jolt sounds out of place, so thorough is the new Big Four’s overhaul of classic material.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, December 2002)

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