Faintly embedded in a distorted, scratchy image on the cover of Stand
is a line of soldiers distinguished by stiff red-brush helmet and shiny shield. Whatever larger implications the Berlin-based quartet known as UNKL intended by the title and cover of this record, the musical relevance is not exactly clear. But you still can gather some hints...
For one thing, this is not a military operation in any sense. The freedom afforded this sax/guitar/bass/drums configuration means that rarely, if ever, do these players stand in formation. Despite the marching band origins of New Orleans funk (evidenced through Sebastian Merk's relentlessly funky snare drumming on the opening "Haddad" and elsewhere), strict order is something these players prefer to except, not accept.
At certain times you can detect the sort of repetitive, interlaced rhythms that probably came out of West African trance music and flowed through the filter of Ornette Coleman's Prime Time units and Steve Coleman's Five Elements. "South Goes" has this sort of energy, fueled by Kalle Kalima's off-kilter guitar vamps locked in with the rhythm section. Saxophonist (and co-composer) Josh Yellon rides roughshod up top, also bringing back to mind the aforementioned saxophonists' occasionally anarchistic efforts. Again, there's a strong hint of order, but it serves more as a counterpoint for musical interaction and melodic invention.
UNKL tosses in a couple ballads along the way, "Nobody" and "Midwest Donkey Ride," that provide some relief from the otherwise high-energy effort on Stand. More experimental timbres come through in the form of odd guitar plunking and effects, whispering and overblown saxophone, though for the most part the group prefers relatively clean tones. The closer strays very close to the border of free jazz, but never really crosses the line. Yet another set of seeming contradictions to the cover and title.
Given that this is a self-produced effort and these musicians are all 30 and under, Stand deserves broad attention. The stark open-mindedness and fearless genre shifts that characterize this record may unsettle the average jazz listener, but that's because you're not supposed to sit when you listen to this disc. Stand. Understand. Maybe?
(Note: this group is totally unrelated to the electronic music UNKLE, despite being only one vowel away. Wankers begone.)
Visit UNKL on the web. Best I can tell, the record is only available from the artists' web site.
Personnel: Josh Yellon: sax; Kalle Kalima: guitar; Gary Hoopendardner: bass; Sebastian Merk: drums.