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Jazz at the Edge of New Age

Jakob Baekgaard By

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Genres can be a way to attract listeners, but they can also repel them. In some circles, genres like new age, smooth jazz and fusion have a bad name, and their entry into jazz could be seen as something negative, but it can also be an enrichment of an art form that is able to embrace an endless amount of expressions. The following three releases are all jazz releases at the edge of new age, but they approach the term in different ways. Whereas guitarist Shambhu and trumpeter Jeff Oster play melodic and smooth new age jazz with a pinch of funk, fusion and world music, Teguh Permana & Yngel have a rawer approach that is closer to drone than melody, but still with a meditative approach. In fact, all these releases approach new age in the way they treat music as something spiritual that encourages contemplation.

Shambhu
Lilac Skies
Self Produced
2019

The cover of Shambhu's fourth album Lilac Skies might scare some listeners away with a picture that suggests far more new age than jazz, but while there's no denying that the guitarist is closely connected to the new age aesthetic, his sound is much more than that. While the sweet, meditative melodies, airy flutes and keyboard washes might spell new age, there is too much going on rhythmically in "Dream Walk" to call it classic new age. With electric guitar, pedal steel, vibrant drums and percussion, Shambhu and his band explore several layers in the music, but the band can also cut down to an essential rhythm and melody on tracks like the rock instrumental "Basis of it All." On the other hand, the smooth funky fusion of "Inspired by the Night" and "Seeing You Again" are all sophisticated relaxation with gentle piano splashes.

The counterpoint to the elaborately detailed band tracks is the warm acoustic solos that are a keen reminder of Shambhu's connection with Will Ackerman. Ackerman co-produced Shambhu's acclaimed Sacred Love (Self Produced, 2010) where the influence from Indian music was more pronounced than it is on Lilac Skies. In the spirit of Ackerman, the album also featured beautiful acoustic guitar playing, and, once again, Shambhu delivers fingerstyle pearls like "Unspoken Words" and "Pondering When."

Between Sacred Love and Lilac Skies, Shambhu has released Dreaming of Now (Self Produced, 2013) and Soothe (Self Produced, 2017). They are important steps in Shambhu's shaping of his own sound, which is not world music, fusion, fingerstyle, new age or smooth jazz, but all these things in a personal expression.

Jeff Oster
Reach
Retso Records
2018

Like Shambhu, trumpeter Jeff Oster's sound is also shaped from many sources and yet he has his own signature: a soft, floating, brassy sound. To quote a title from the album Reach, it's like "Velvet and Smoke." The track starts with rustling percussion and tinkling piano before a deep bass line sets in with Oster's trumpet lines expanding like rings in water. The mood is subtly funky and draws on the genre Oster has described as "new age ambient funk."

However, the music never settles completely into one genre as it changes between rhythmic movements and meditation and a place in-between. A fine example of this transition is the difference between the tracks "Far Rockaway," "Le Caveau" and "Five Mountains." The first track is an excellent example of Oster the sound painter with multiple layered trumpet lines emerging between a beautiful chiming motif of piano and percussion. "Le Caveau" picks up the funk with a deep bass line, wah-wah sounds and a brass section and solo trumpet with more rhythmic bite. Everything comes together on "Five Mountains" that marries the dynamic movement of "Le Caveau" with the subtle sound painting of "Far Rockaway" and extra atmosphere provided by an oriental musical motif and Ennio Morricone-style wordless choir.

Reach finds Oster reaching out towards many musical vistas, but with his tight band, he always finds his way home. Together with keyboard-player and co-producer Ruslan Sirota, Oster has created a sound that takes the best from new age and jazz.

Teguh Permana & Yngel
Teguh Permana & Yngel
Resonans Records
2019

Unlike Shambhu and Oster, the music of Teguh Permana & Yngel is more minimalistic in its approach, but it's also meditative. Yngel are electric guitarists Emil Palme and Taus Bregnhøj-Olesen and on their self-titled record, the Copenhagen-based duo has teamed up with Indonesian musician Teguh Permana, who plays the tarawangsa, a two stringed fiddle played upright like a little cello. Tarawangsa is also a style of music predominately played in the mountain regions of West Java. It's spiritual music that is used to get into a trance and the trance-like aspect of the music is also found on the record where electric guitars play repeatedly ringing chords using stones and objects. The strings of the tarawangsa sing while the strings of the electric guitars hum. Complex patterns like a finely woven carpet emerge with details of strummed chords and rustling strings like broken wires and bells.

Teguh Permana & Yngel was recorded in an apartment in Bandgun, Indonesia (see the attached YouTube-video) with the musicians very close to each other. Together they play four improvised pieces that sometimes sound like compositions. There is a pattern, a way, and changes in intensity, but also unpredictable movements. It's beautiful music that unfolds like a flower grown in dry, stony soil.

Tracks and Personnel

Lilac Skies

Tracks: Lilac Skies; Unspoken Words; Dochas; Blue Whispers; Pondering When; Open Your Heart Sky; Dream Walk; Basis of It All; Inspired by the Night; Seeing You Again.

Personnel: Shambhu: guitars, e-keyboards, e-bass; Frank Martin: keyboards; Celso Alberti: drums & percussion; Kai Eckhardt: bass; Premik Russell Tubbs: EWI, flute, lap pedal steel; Kristin Hoffman: vocals; Alec Hamilton: keyboards, e-hammond organ.

Reach

Tracks: Onward; Far Rockaway; Le Caveau; Five Great Mountains; The Lotus Within; Troppo y Boffo; How Familiar; Velvet and Smoke; The Pink City.

Personnel: Jeff Oster: flugelhorn, trumpet; Ruslan Sirota: keyboards, vocals; Robyn Ghosh: guitar; Benjamin J. Shepherd: bass; Tamir Barzilay: drums; Pete Korpela: percussion; Jenni Asher: erhu (4); Ravichandra Kulur: Indian flutes (9); Drew Allsbrook: vocals (4).

Teguh Permana & Yngel

Tracks: Hiji; Dua; Tilu; Opat.

Personnel: Teguh Permana: tarawangsa; Emil Palme: electric guitar; Taus Bregnhøj-Olesen: electric guitar.
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