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Riffing on riddles. Such seems to be the intent of Danish saxophonist Hans Ulrik’s new release on the Stunt label. The name he coins for his ensemble is Jazz & Mambo, but the program appears to be a clutch of reworked Danish pop and folk songs. The gist of the band seems jazz oriented; both in instrumentation and overall improvisatory approach, yet two of the program’s pieces are “Jazz Interludes” suggesting that the remainder of the set isn’t identified as jazz. These apparent inconsistencies and contradictions end up reflecting facets of Ulrik’s strong humor and creative vision.
The opening cut, a probable tongue twister to English-speaking embouchures, starts with the ringing strums of trez against a percolating rhythm of scrapers, congas and bass. Ulrik’s honking tenor alights on the overtly Latin groove, spooling out ebulliently expressive lines that seem to have very little Danish corollary, at least on the surface. “Den Blå Anemone” draws from a completely disparate ethnic reservoir, referencing sitar-like tonalities on mohan weena that are echoed by a percussion field of woodblocks and gongs. Ulrik’s overdubbed saxophone and droning bass clarinet complete the trance-inducing processional. So it goes through nine more tracks. Most hover around the four-minute mark and their brevity makes the program pass quickly. The sense of mystery of where Ulrik will take his partners from piece to piece sustains.
Along the way the band touches on psychedelic hippie strains (“Et Er Hvidt Herude”), lonesome harmonica-driven tangos laced with electric guitar effects (“En Lille Nisse Rejste”) and haunting slide guitar blues (“I Skovens Dybe Stille Ro”). Distorted rock riffing even enters the equation on the concluding “Sig Næmer Tiden” as Knudsen’s gritty neon fretwork echoes around a clip clop percussion beat crafted by Diers. Ulrik’s instruments frame every port of call on the journey. His sounds range from New Age mystic diffusiveness to impassioned bebop blowing to rasp-etched romanticism. His talented sidemen are equally eclectic and accomplished in their contributions. P>
With his rampant, but seamless style shifts, Ulrik seems to be suggesting that titles are ultimately superfluous. How one classifies a slice of music is ultimately secondary to how said music sounds, the emotions and energies it evokes. These eleven tracks succeed in summoning a multitude of emotions. Each one sounds vital despite their varying structures and subjective allegiances. Each one fits beautifully into the larger inclusive whole.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.