There are several aspects of Sebastian Schunke's new record, Back in New York (Connector, 2008) that make it stand out from the slew of records that young pianists produce. First is that the music is complex, sophisticated, and superbly crafteda sure sign that its composer has already reached a high degree of maturation. Second, is the selfless manner in which the musical largesse has been distributed, not unlike what the great Duke Ellington used to do when he distributed the solos in each composition and howalthough you can never really take individuality away form the soloing artistit would appear that the music was written with specific artists in mind.
So, for instance, you cannot imagine anyone but Paquito D'Rivera playing the clarinet on these songs and no one else but John Benitez on bass and Pernell Saturnino on percussion or Antonio Sanchez on drums and Anders Nilsson on guitar. Duke used to write and arrange music that wayit was said that his instrument was his band. With this record, it would seem that Sebastian Schunke's instrument is also so much more than the piano he plays... indeed it is his band!
Back in New York is a wonderful record, full of the richly textured melodies and dense and darting harmonies. The music is locked in an endless cycle of rhythmic intensity that few records can claim to feature. In fact, so intense is the music that there is an almost dramatic tension that builds throughout the record. The songs are actually narrative or deeply personal sketches, but both types of compositions are so vivid that you see the characters through the curtains of notes and showers of phrases that dapple the music. Two fine examples are the sketches: "One for Emma," impressionistic and full of sullen beauty (not the least because of the interplay between clarinet, piano, and bass) and "Susanne," just a flowing masterpiece.
And then there are the gorgeous narratives: "Oma Mutti" and "Be Honest," which stand out on the record not the least because on the latter especially, guitarist Anders Nilsson pays tribute to the great Sonny Sharrock with his powerful block chords throughout. And then there is the woody majesty of Paquito D Rivera's clarinet, whose sonic waves swirl in deep bleats and round gurgles, near glisses and shrill whistles. The sensuous growling of John Benitez's bass with mesmerizing pedal point provides thick, rhythmic support. And feverishly pulsed percussion and drums from Pernell Saturnino and Antonio Sanchez make the music dance with elemental beauty.
So where is the piano of Sebastian Schunke? It lies deep inside the music, almost self-effacing, yet creating the all-pervasive bed on which the music rests, ever present and rich in design, glamour, and majesty. This is a record that Schunke ought to be extremely proud of, as it is a definitive statement in sound that is at once characteristically Afro-Cuban, richly impressionistic, and uniquely symphonic as well.
Oma Mutti; One for Emma; Susanne; Vida Pura; Song for Antje; Be Honest; Hombre Tinto.
Sebastian Schunke: piano and musical direction; Paquito D'Rivera: clarinet; John Benitez: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums; Pernell Saturnino: percussion; Anders Nilsson: guitar.