That bandleaders Samo Salamon and Aljosa Jeric are Slovenian doesn't appear to be of much musical relevance; jazz settings of East European folk songs are not the order of the day here. But it might have some metaphorical relevance; just as their tiny homeland has shot to the top of all social, economic and political rankings of countries of the former socialist bloc, this guitar and drum duo has rocketed in a relatively short time to the ranks of world class contemporary jazz musicians. In so doing, they remindif indeed we needed remindingjust how global the jazz world is.
Mamasaal is either situateddepending upon the perspectiveat the comfortable center or the experimental edge of the jazz mainstream. Either way, the compositions are exquisitely fashioned, if at times a little fastidious in their self-conscious modernist complexity. But about half the time ("Pale But Beautiful," "Internal Affairs"), they manage to be memorable and affecting, with a good selection of tempos. "The Shy One"'s ethereal hipness would, for example, be at home on Paul Motian's Garden of Eden (ECM, 2006).
Salamon's playing, in particular, raises this date above the level of merely competent. While he is note-perfect on the complicated melodic lines of the compositions, his solos hit the beat in an approximate way. This creates a kind of tension that derives from a venerable jazz-guitar lineage, reaching back to Melvin Sparks and James Blood Ulmer, transmuted through Pat Metheny's bell-like clarity. Much of Salamon's soloing alternates fragments of rapid-fire lines with strumming that serves to reset the sonic pattern and which provides structure: this approach is most neatly and notably displayed in the borderline-free improvisational segment of "High Heels."
It's not unfair to single out Mark Turner's roleafter all, the boys put his name in the album's title. Here, as on the more celebrated and roughly contemporary sophomore effort of Turner's collaborative Fly trioSky & Country (ECM, 2009)the saxophonist speaks with relentless imagination and self-assured coherence. His solos repeatedly give the impression of purposefully zeroing in on the musical heart of the compositionsthe way he seizes on the giant steps of "Internal Affairs," for example, or makes sense of the complicated melody of "Little Eva." His honking, abrasive entry on "High Heels" stretches, but does not break, the thematic unity of the album.
Meanwhile, young bassist Matt Brewer (sideman to Greg Osby, among others), is unfailingly alert and inventive, with his harmonics-laden solo on "Internal Affairs" a highlight of the disc. Drummer Jeric's playing is crisp and approachable; he is not afraid to shuffle when the need arises ("Elephants on Holiday").
Ultimately, it is irrelevant and a little condescending to point to Salamon and Jeric's nationality. They will hold their own against all comers, whatever their provenance.
Flying Serpents; High Heels; Little Eva; Night Thoughts; Internal Affairs; Pale But Beautiful; Make The Duck Sound; Elephants On Holidays; Happy Girl; The Shy One.
Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; Samo Salamon: guitar; Matt Brewer: bass; Aljosa Jeric: drums.
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