Clouds and Stormy Nights: A New Pair from QFTF

Geno Thackara By

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Germany's growing QFTF label remains ambitious as ever as 2016 draws to a close, showcasing two young off-the-beaten-path bandleaders with their own ideas of the directions modern jazz might take. With some fairly offbeat feels for melody, the pair manage to serve as two sides of the same semi-abstract coin.

Matthew Sheens
Cloud Appreciation Day

It eases in with an almost stately air, then abruptly breaks into rhythmic careening like lightning suddenly shooting through the stratocumulus layer. Fast skittering drums and low piano notes establish a fun groove to propel the group forward. By the time the opening track is over, the group has also squeezed in some frenetic soloing and a little slower bop-like swing, sometimes with the piano and guitar almost but not quite tonally at odds.

Through the rest of Cloud Appreciation Day, Matthew Sheens continues gleefully throwing disparate elements together with an expert ear for unexpected blendings. In "Names" the band can shift on a dime from rapid piano patterns to airy vocal "aah"s and back, before the double bass steps in to take the lead and the 3/4 rhythm gets stretched with differently staggered accents. "First Orbit" leads off with high choir-like chanting and then becomes a smooth lounge piece running on skewed undulating vocal lines. Each piece (apart from the interludes) features multiple such disparate sections, but the crew flows from one to the next smoothly enough that it doesn't feel jarring.

The leader's breezy piano patterns hook the ears without being exactly catchy, while the compositions incorporate things from steady Eastern trance to sung poetry or upbeat scatting. It's no surprise that it was also made with different complementary crews—the album itself was made in two places at opposite ends of the globe (New York and Sydney) with two different groups, which is all in keeping with the variety overall. The flavors may range fairly wide, but they still work beautifully together as parts of a whole.

Salvo Palermo's Igor
0= ∞ ∞=0

Where Sheens' form-stretching keeps things accessible, his label-mate Salvo Palermo leans a bit more obtuse. Somewhat reminiscent of The Claudia Quintet's John Hollenbeck, the guitarist threads melodies that come across a bit aimless on the surface, then gradually reveal a painstaking deliberation once they begin to sink in. Each player's part might be small during the less busy stretches, but they fit smoothly together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The sum of the parts creates a slow ethereal vibe that's mysterious and a bit unsettling.

For his part, Palermo generally uses his guitar for background shadings while leaving most leads to the dual saxophones. The backing band Igor ably serves its role as lab assistant, piecing together their living patchwork creation with an ambitious disregard for rules. The forms here are loose rather than knotty. The floating horn lines and light vibraphone create an almost surreal dreamy atmosphere, while the pert drum work manages to complement that feel without disrupting it. 0= ∞ ∞=0 could easily serve as a subtle film-noir soundtrack, sharp and classy with a hint of black magic to it.

Tracks and Personnel

Cloud Appreciation Day

Rage Against the Dying of the Light; Names; Interlude #1 -Rage; First Orbit; Cumulonimbus Society; Interlude #2—Orbit; A Midsummer Nightmare; Cloud Appreciation Day; Life Measured in Haircuts; Interlude #3 -Cloud; Last Poem.

Matthew Sheens: piano; Gian Slater, Aubrey Johnson, Lauren Roth, Tomas Cruz, David Lang: voice; John Patitucci, Alex Boneham: bass; Kenneth Salters, Tim Firth: drums; Alex Goodman: guitar.

0= ∞ ∞=0

Le Chemin; Voisinage; Pailiki; Il Mago; La Bougie; Passé Simple; Piece of Cake; Aérien.

Salvo Palermo: guitar; Julien Lemoine: vibraphone; Alvaro Soto: upright bass; Louis Billette: soprano saxophone; Basile Rosselet: tenor saxophone; Giacomo Reggiani: drums.

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