German pianist/composer Sebastian Schunke has a sound firmly rooted in Latin jazz, but he has never shied away from bringing in European influences as well. His previous album Genesis, Mystery And Magic (Nwog Records, 2014) employed a conventional sextet with horns and percussionbut also included Interludes of introspective solo piano. Elusive Beauty presents a conscious move into new stylistic territory: Schunke calls it "Fourth Stream," a symbiosis of Afro-Latin American music and the "New Music" of the 21st century.
The core band is Schunke and his longtime Berlin band mate, Uruguayan drummer/percussionist Diego Pinera. Stripping back to a duo is a bold move, but they are joined on three tracks by the unusual trio of Benjamin Weidekamp (bass clarinet, clarinet), Yodfat Miron (viola) and Boram Lie (cello). "Rapsodia No. 3 (Alles Im Fluss)" opens the set with the "all in flux" feeling of the subtitle. Beginning with a rhythmic montuno section (Schunke emphasizes the bass range of the piano a bit more than usual, compensating for the lack of double bass), the bridge opens up with abstract, dissonant harmonies and rubato percussion (with Pinera employing an extended drum kit including bells, gongs, wood blocks and other percussion). This is a duo with close communication, equally capable of rhythm and atmospherics.
The extended group makes its debut on the two parts of "Back to Life," with the wind and strings taking the lead. Schunke takes the opportunity to play obligato pianoone of the few places where he plays a conventional jazz piano soloand Weidekamp makes a strong impression on bass clarinet, his solo building to an ecstatic climax. The second part opens with a brief solo piano introduction, followed by a cello theme, joined by clarinet and percussion. The whole ensemble plays a montuno pattern to end the piece. This combination of winds and strings presents a distinctive dark timbrea unique sound which does not recall the strings and horns usually found in Latin jazz, but is more in keeping with contemporary chamber music. Schunke has shown a predilection for the clarinet before: he chose to have Paquito D'Rivera play it as the lead instrument on his album Back in New York (Timba, 2008).
"Der Gedanke" ("The Thought") summarizes much of the musical argument presented by Elusive Beauty. Beginning with a slow, mournful chorale from the strings, it moves to solo piano, followed by an atmospheric section using the entire augmented band. It builds to an ostinato employing all of the instruments, from which another bass clarinet solo breaks out. Then there is a slow rubato, dispersing all of the energy the piece has developed. The set closes with "Her Dance," a final duet statement. At first the title seems completely inaccuratethe dance rhythms are abstract at bestbut finally a regular montuno pattern takes over. And it provides a great showcase for Pinera, who plays a brilliant drum solo, some of his most striking playing on the album.
Is this album the beginning of a new musical style, as Schunke intends? Only time will tell. But it is certainly a unique approach to Latin jazz, and a coherent suite of music. That should be enough to interest fans of creative Latin jazz.
Rapsodia No. 3 (Alles Im Fluss); Einsamkeit; Back to Life - Part I; Back to Life - Part II; Rapsodia No. 4 (Crazy Danzón); Der Gedanke; Her Dance.
Sebastian Schunke: piano and compositions; Diego Pinera: drums and percussion; Benjamin Weidekamp: bass clarinet and clarinet (3, 4, 6); Yodfat Miron: viola (3, 4, 6); Boram Lie: cello (3, 4, 6).
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