Simon Spang-Hanssen: Ear Witness (2005)

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Simon Spang-Hanssen: Ear Witness
Ear Witness—whose members are from Denmark, Hungary, Mauritius, and Cameroon—is not exactly your average jazz quartet. To be a bit more precise, let's call this music what it is: funky fusion. Ear Witness is one of Danish saxophonist Simon Spang-Hanssen's many projects, and he wrote eight of its pieces (the ninth is a group composition). Each song has a catchy theme, which is one of Spang-Hanssen's trademarks. Sometimes they're almost too catchy for me, since they have a tendency to get stuck in my ears and I have problems getting rid of them. Which means the next time I play the record, the themes seem almost too familiar. But then it's time to focus on the individual players and check out what they're really doing, which will keep me busy for quite a while.

Four strong musical personalities make up this group, and each one has a very characteristic playing style. The one who sticks out more than the others is Hungarian keyboardist Emil Spányi, who uses synthesizer sounds that don't try to imitate other instruments, but just sound like a real synth, with its roots in the fusion from the late '70s and early '80s. But this guy is exceptional, quite individualistic. We rarely hear this kind of freaky synth playing today, but we didn't hear it quite like this back then either, as far as I can remember. And not in a band like this, playing this kind of compositions.

Just like Spányi, Spang-Hanssen has an extraordinary melodic sense, and the two instruments intertwine nicely while the bass and drums play high-class funk. On another one of his current releases, the more jazzy Noctiflore, he plays only tenor, but on Ear Witness it's alto and soprano all the way through. Nice tonality, adding unexpected twists and turns to his lines.

Linley Marthe is Joe Zawinul's latest bassist; he is, just like all of his predecessors, the current "bassist of the bassists, with a funky style, distinctly punchy and smoothly flowing at the same time. His presence adds power to each moment on the recording, with his round, never metallic, notes playing their own symphony that's worth its own complete round of listening.

Behind the drums we find another wizard, Cameroonian Felix Sabal-Lecco, who has a track record with Manu Dibango, Youssou N'Dour, Peter Gabriel, and many others. His impressive and exciting drumming all the way through reveals many interesting ways of playing funk; he's more polyrhythmic than most drummers, due to his roots in the rich musical traditions of Cameroon, which must also be one factor behind the talent of guys like drummer Brice Wassy and ex-Zawinulers Richard Bona and Etienne Mbappé. So this kind of playing is worth listening to closely; it's really Funk Beyond The Call Of Duty...

Visit Simon Spang-Hanssen on the web.

Track Listing: Caf Central; Terrenos; Serpentine; Dreamworld; Interlude; David's Jungle Song; Touchy; Herbivore; Soul On Fire.

Personnel: Simon Spang-Hanssen: alto & soprano saxophones; Emil Spnyi: Fender rhodes and keyboards; Linley Marthe: electric bass; Felix Sabal-Lecco: drums, voice and percussion.

Record Label: Music Mecca

Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock


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