Two days of jamming. Two years of splicing the results into an album.
Those seemingly opposite concepts of music are the foundation for Our Theory, an electronic jazz album which was born when Turkish saxophonist Ilhan Ersahin encountered French trumpet player Erik Truffaz at a jam. They decided to bring in a trio of like-minded avant-garde musicians for a recording session.
"I wouldn't call it avant-garde jazz. I like the term nu-jazz," said Ersahin, founder of the Nublu label. "It's related to cinematic soundscapes and more creative DJ sets mixed with solos and composition. Our Theory is the jazzier/experimental side of Nublu records."
A personal disclaimer is in order, since I had some preliminary reservations. First, I'd like to hear the unvarnished jams to know if the post-recording work is an enhancement. Second, I balk a little at albums that are heavy on cut-and-paste (I can't muster the proper respect and love for Miles Davis' Doo-Wop, for example)it's like trying to appreciate a model who's been airbrushed. This album is similar in character to the work of Nils Petter Molvaer, a personal favorite, but not up to that standard in artistic merit, in part because of the piecemeal approach.
That said, there's much to like. Too many electronic jazz albums feature dominant beats and minimalist playing where the so-called artistry feels like a hoax. There's no way to judge how much spontaneityor even talentexists in these ten songs, but most feel organic and possess a decent free-form/symphonic character.
The beats are steady grooves, but drummer Jachen Ruecker infuses enough complexity and off-beat timing to make them interesting. The vamps possess a modal simplicity, but usually serve as a reference point instead of a dominating presence. The opening title track, for instance, finds guitarist Thor Madsen starting with leisurely reverb-heavy musing and then switching to a chorus-rock crunchsort of evolving from Bill Frisell to John Scofield. An arranging example follows with the vaguely "Footprints"-like "Midnight Sun," where Truffaz's muted trumpet dances gracefully around various synthesized voices and strings. It's not high art, but it's pleasant.
There are periods of repetition without sufficient development, such as the six-minute "Radio," which never breaks stride from a relatively simple drum beat and occasional echoing trumpet fanfare with little variation. Much better are Ersahin, Truffaz and bassist Matt Penman intermingling post bop and early funk into the similarly lengthy "Blow Up," although again there's a nagging desire to know if they're responding to each other or the song is just programmed to sound like they are.
The finale, "Our Song," has a strong late-Miles character, but like the legend's final effort, it feels a bit too assembled to be appreciated. The Man used to say studio albums were like menus, while the real meal was hearing things live. Our Theory achieves a similar result: it whets the appetite, but without a sense of real satisfaction.
Personnel: Erik Truffaz: trumpet; Ilhan Ersahin: saxophone and samples; Thor Madsen: guitar,
keyboards, programming; Matt Penman: bass; Jachen Rueckert: drums.