The wonderful thing about jazz is how over the years it has come to transcend borders both real and virtual. While some like to think of it as an American tradition, and without question it had its start on this side of the pond, the truth is there are no longer any boundaries. Musicians from as far afield as Slovenia and Tunisia practice the form in a reverentially American way, while artists in North America fuse their tradition with music from abroad.
It no longer matters anymore where you are from, and that's a good thing. German pianist Martin Sasse and his trio, featuring bassist Henning Gailing and drummer Hendrik Smock, have been recording with Nagel Heyer since '01, and each album not only gets better, it demonstrates that you don't have to be an American to swing with the truth.
Following up last year's Groovy Affair , where, as strong as the trio was, guest guitarist Peter Bernstein nearly stole the show, Sasse and the trio offer up Close Encounter , featuring guest Vincent Herring on alto saxophone and flute. If one didn't have the album booklet to look at, one would think this is Herring's record, which says a lot about Sasse's lack of ego and desire to get to the essence of the music. That's not to say Sasse and the trio don't turn in fine performancesthey doit's just that Herring's contribution to this mostly original set of material is so significant that it's hard to imagine the group without him.
Once again the emphasis is on straight-ahead post bop, with tunes like Herring's "Don't Let It Go" swinging in a relaxed, medium tempo kind of way. Herring is clearly descended from Cannonball Adderley's style of playing, with an exuberant approach that is intelligent without being intellectual. Sasse's "Blue Herring" is a modal workout that gives Sasse a chance to show his roots in McCoy Tyner by way of Kenny Kirkland. Smock and Gailing are the perfect rhythm section as they propel both Sasse and Vincent to greater heights while remaining remarkably unobtrusive.
Smock's "Nelson's Dilemma" is an ode to pop star "Prince" Rogers Nelson, rather surprisingly as there's nothing in it that brings Prince's music to mind. According to Smock, the dilemma is that of "trying to hold the balance between 'Art for art's sake' and 'Money for heaven's sake.'" There's no dilemma here, though, as Sasse turns in another strong solo that builds from a straightforward linear approach to more intense block chording.
From the up-tempo bebop of Herring's "Folklore" to the tender "I Will Sing You a Lullaby," a tender minor ballad that features Herring's lyrical flute work, Close Encounter is an unassuming record that shows the American tradition alive and living comfortably far beyond its original borders. With groups like this, it becomes clear that boundaries are now nothing more than artifice, and that's a sentiment that would do well to be adopted in broader terms.