Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Pago Libre...

Sorry that the promised preview of the Pro Cycling season hasn't arrived yet - I pulled a muscle at the base of my back the other day and cycling is the furthest thing from my mind at the moment. Not even Thomas Morgenstern's poor showing in the ski-jumping World Cup last weekend could inspire an article, but as there's little demand for pieces on that particular sport, let's not complain. I'll still be producing something on cycling very soon, but not just yet.

Instead we're back to the readymades - reviews that are already written and published, needing only a waffly pre-amble from yours truly to top them off.

I'm trying to keep the German 'new jazz' theme going, and this group almost fits. Brennan is Irish, Shilkloper Russian, and for all I know Thiessing and Breinschmidt are probably Austrian or Swiss. Take note of the opening remarks however - this is 'pan-European new music', whatever that is. As most of the interesting new European music of recent times - be it improvised or composed - has been German, and the sensibilities of this group are very much informed by a lot of that music, I rest my case.

The link may well be tenuous, but would anybody really want to read a review of a party CD by German superstar James Last? Probably not, and fortunately I haven't yet had to approach the man and his music, despite some pretty grisly assignments. If you follow the hyperlink above you can start to enjoy exploring his world of kitsch for yourselves. Don't you just love those wallpapers? And feel free to send me a James Last e-card. You might just make my day...

Stepping Out

W 9th Street; Heptao; Intrada; Komm Ins Off’ne/Step Out (Into The Open); Let It Find U; Alpine Sketch; Waltz For Alfred Hitchcock; IntermeZZo; Rasende Gnome; Please Don’t Leave Me Now; The Trouble With Alfred.

Arkady Shilkloper (frhn); Tscho Theissing (vn); John Wolf Brennan (p); Georg Breinschmidt (b). (October 2004).

Now the only remaining member of the original Pago Libre, pianist John Wolf Brennan has steered the group through over fifteen years of what has best been described as ‘pan-european new music’. Despite several personnel changes, including the unveiling of a new bassist for this recording, the elements of the Pago Libre sound have remained remarkably intact. For newcomers to the group, chamber-esque sonorities and a sprinkling of the folksiness of Bartok are fused with the rhythmic exuberance of jazz, Gaslini-esque Italian wit and the unpredictable musical anarchy of Amsterdam’s ICP.

Whilst critical opinion may be divided over the appeal ‘Eurojazz’, not even the sternest detractor of this type of hybridism could deny Pago Libre’s panache or longevity within the genre. Stepping Out consolidates earlier achievements, and the nearly fifteen minute long ‘Intrada’ may well be their most significant statement to date. A suite-like epic drawing on Shilkloper’s knowledge of European composition as much as his passion for the continent’s folk music, it also shows us that he’s at last found a suitable post-Moscow Art Trio home for his talents. The solo bass passage towards the end of the piece really drops the jaw, marking out Breinschmidt as a worthy replacement for the estimable Daniele Patumi.

Elsewhere in this well balanced and enjoyable hour we get a reprisal of the breezy ‘W 9th Street’, a Shilkloper horn solo of trombone-like agility on the free-bop romp ‘Step Out (Into The Open)’, an honest stab at chamber-funk (‘Let It Find U’) and even a ghostly remix of the Hitchcock waltz to bring the disc to a close. Despite touching so many bases, ‘eclectic’ probably isn’t a word you’d use to describe Stepping Out. A tight group identity ensures that the music’s many facets are seamlessly blended in a way that is refreshingly uncontrived.

Mingus once suggested in an interview that rather than copy black American jazz, Europeans should explore their own musical heritage, from classical to folk, to develop an authentic form of jazz. Not only would he enjoy the massive bass of Georg Breinschmidt, I’m sure he’d appreciate Pago Libre’s efforts to do just this. Recommended.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, March 2006)

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