As one can usually expect from a record that prominently features a European accordionist, there's a certain Old World charm about Flamingos. Austrian saxophonist Max Nagl has built a characteristic lighthearted sophistication into his new trio recording. Both accordionist Otto Lechner and bassist Bradley Jones have previously collaborated with Nagl on earlier releases.
The often court-like atmosphere stands somewhat in contrast with Nagl's formal attention to Mingus (and specifically Live at Cafe Bohemia and Pre-Bird), but the two do share an emphasis on African American roots (check out the sauntering blues of "Bad Hotel" and the title track) and the rite of composition. In addition to two Mingus pieces, Nagl penned eight tracks.
The bassist serves as a sort of anchor for the group, ensuring harmonic fullness and emphasizing the underlying meter that serves as an engine for these tunes. But no single player stands in the foreground or background throughout Flamingos; instead, they trade roles. The general strategy seems to be to engage one or two players in a pre-arranged pattern (though it's possible that much of the formal parts of the music are improvised), and then allow one or two to improvise alongside.
What marks this music is the way Nagl uses counterpoint to balance roles in the group, especially on the vamp-driven first two tracks, and the way phrasing and emphasis are carefully coordinated among the players. This is a fully controlled event, no two ways about it, even though it strays from consonance much of the time.
Alex Dutilh's liner notes speak right away of elegance, and that's an absolutely essential feature of the performance, though there are a few scattered moments when the group takes a more visceral approach. Nagl plays three different saxophones, though he's most at home on the alto. Otto Lechner (as versatile an accordionist as I've heard) also plays piano on "Weird Nightmare" and sings intermittently way down in the bass register on the closing "Bat Chain." Together with Jones they work as a team, and that's just one reason for the warmth and understated enthusiasm that mark Flamingos.
Personnel: Max Nagl: alto, baritone, and soprano saxophone; Otto Lechner: accordion, piano, and voice; Bradley Jones: bass.