Christophe Wallemme describes this effort as a "wink at the great standards of American jazz," a laudable objective but an affirmation that seems intended to confuse the listener. The explicit musical references on Start "So Many Ways..." point instead to Antonio Carlos Jobim and Miles Davis' Bitches Brew rather than "Body and Soul" or "My Funny Valentine." No matter.
Wallemme's previous record, the fine Namaste (Bee Jazz, 2006), drew upon the bassist's years in India to construct a mature work of cross-cultural jazz, accompanied by a big troupe of musicians. The new record is based on far more intimate musical settingsessentially a piano trio augmented on some cuts by saxophone or guitarand has not a whiff of India about it.
If anything, one hears hints of Brazil in some of these tracks. The meditative "Picture in Black and White" is a barely disguised variation on the bossa nova classic "Portrait in Black and White." Pianist Jozef Dumoulin's brief, tremulous solo contrasts nicely with Harold Danko's long-winded, sentimental one on Chet Baker's 1987 version of the Jobim original (Chet Baker in Tokyo, Evidence, 1996). Wallemme underlies the reworked tune with a kind of samba rhythm played backwards, a tactic familiar from Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" (Maiden Voyage, Blue Note, 1965).
The same backward-samba pulse is distinguishable on the opening "Quartz," and on "Pharaon's Dance," evidently a nod to Miles Davis' "Pharaoh's Dance." The Wallemme number appears to pay tribute not to the propulsive Davis composition, but to the trumpeter's soaring, architectural solo. This is also where saxophonist Julien Lourau has his best moment on the record.
On several tracks (though not, perhaps strangely, on the Bitches Brew-inspired composition, where you would most expect it), Dumoulin plays the Fender Rhodes; the best of these is the simmering "Today Perhaps." Meanwhile, electric guitarist Manu Codjia, a standout veteran of Namaste, dependably casts aside all pretence of politeness when it is his turn to solo; that said, "Where Is My Way?," his duet with Wallemme, is quite tender.
Start "So Many Ways..." is an awkward title for a piece of work with no awkwardness about it. Wallemme once again offers an album of conceptual sophistication and coherence in the company of a strong supporting cast.
Track Listing: Quartz; To Bee or Not to Bee; Portrait of Cendrine; Picture in Black and White; Wanted; Where Is My Way?; Today Perhaps; Pharaon's Dance; U-Turn; Certainly Tomorrow; U-Turn (Version 2).
Personnel: Christophe Wallemme: double bass, compositions, arrangements; Jozef Dumoulin: piano, Fender Rhodes, electronics; Dre Pallemaerts: drums; Julien Lourau: tenor and soprano saxophone (1, 4, 5, 8); Manu Codjia: guitar (2, 4, 5, 8).