Surprises can come in the most unlikely guises and under the least likely names. Jazz is the latest example of that old maxim to never judge a book by its cover. The combination of the group name Boom Boxconjuring up images of hip-hop and oversized ghetto blastersand a graphic style reminiscent of Peter Brötzmann albums does nothing to hint at the subtle delights to be found within. Fortunately, the album title itself is well chosen, acting as a counterweight to those misleading clues, and its honest simplicity fits the music.
Boom Box is the trio of saxophonist Thomas Borgmann, bassist Akira Ando and drummer Willi Kellers. All three are experienced players, each with an impressive list of past collaborators (in the case of Borgmann and Kellers, including Brötzmann) and they carry forward the exploratory spirit of those people in this music. Jazz is the trio's first album together, studio-recorded in Berlin over two days in June 2010. Of the six tracks, each member of the trio is credited with two, but Borgmann says that all of the music was played totally free over two long sessions, so the music was actually composed by all three of them.
In line with the album title, the music is unquestionably jazz. Although obviously rooted in free jazz, it is surprisingly replete with qualities that some may not associate with that description, such as swing, restraint, delicacy. There is no screamingor boominghere. On an album where every track is peerless, the standout has to be "Albert and Frank"; its title acknowledging pioneers Albert Ayler and Frank Wright. Its opening quotes Ayler's "Ghosts," before the three take off on their own free-flowing hommage. At close to fourteen minutesand in keeping with the album's other extended tracksthe piece demonstrates that the longer this trio plays the better it sounds. There is never any sense of running short of ideas or falling back on stock phrases; everything sounds freshly minted.
Borgmann seemingly has the ability to endlessly spin out solo lines that are melodically and rhythmically inventive, making the process sound as simple as breathing. He switches between tenor, soprano and sopranino with ease, using them in a painterly fashion for their different tonal qualities, as required; on the closer, "Only for Dörte," he even briefly uses two harmonica chords to good effect. His rhythmic sense helps give the trio its swing; it always feels as if all three players are creating it equally, without any sense of them being soloist plus rhythm section.
It is fitting that three track titles refer to birds and flight (and the cover graphic is of birds in flight); throughout, the music has the unfettered playfulness of birdsong and the gravity-defying lightness of gliding. All three players contribute equally to that; for much of the album they play simultaneously, displaying an easy-going compatibility, fitting together like the pieces of a jigsaw.
Jazz is the best surprise of the year so far, and a favorite that's sure to be one of the best albums of 2011.
Little Birds May Fly; How Far Can You Fly?; Hey Little Bird; And To Where?; Albert & Frank; Only for Dörte.
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