On Space Messengers, Austrian musician Wolfgang Schalk proves to be an explosively inventive guitarist and a gifted, challenging composer. Backed by an alert, vibrant rhythm section, he digs deep into eight original compositions, improvising with considerable intelligence, passion, and swing.
In the CD booklet, Schalk cites Pat Martino as one of his primary influences, and indeed, the Austrian possesses a clarion, ringing guitar sound that recalls Martino. Yet Schalk is very much his own man. He plays with an attractive lyricism, enabling some of his phrases to float over the rhythm section, and one of his most intriguing strategies is a seemingly effortless tendency to insert unexpected chordal passages into a single-note line. To my ears, his finest improvising comes on the rockish "Frame Up." Playing what sounds like an amplified acoustic guitar, Schalk tears into the changes with relentless power and soaring invention.
Yet, as good as these guitar solos are (and they are very, very good), the compositions themselves are what first catch the ear. Schalk creates impressive structures for improvisation, and he fits each and every structure with a hip, catchy melody. If other musicians pick up on these tunes, every single one of them has the potential to become a jazz standard.
Of course, this album's success is also rooted in the exemplary rhythm section. This is a working band whose empathy is clearly audible. They flow and dance through the intricacies of Schalk's compositions, and they swing with grace and power. Andy McKee's booming bass sound is an asset, and drummer Ian Froman keeps things interesting. Put simply, pianist Dave Kikoski is in excellent form throughout. Highly recommended.
Personnel: Wolfgang Schalk: guitars; Dave Kikoski: piano; Andy McKee: acoustic bass; Ian Froman: drums.