Recorded in Brooklyn in April 2012 this excellent modern Quartet session led by Slovenian born pianist and composer Marko Churnchetz (native spelling is Črnčec) only recently saw the light of day in July 2014 courtesy of London's enlightened Whirlwind label. The delay is all the more inexplicable given the prominent contributions of hot saxophonist Mark Shim, who played on those wonderful recent Steve Lehman records Mise en Abime and Travail, Transformation & Flow.
While this is Churnchetz's Whirlwind debut, he has released two previous albums as a leader Moral Interchange and Signature (both in 2010) and a couple of albums as co- leader either side of these. While Moral Interchange is still reasonably easy to find several of the others are now appear out of print and could see an appreciable increase in demand from collectors on the basis of the quality of this album. Churnchetz divides his time between his homeland and New York these days, and the album feels like an attempt to put an individual spin on modern jazz archetypes. Jako Vinsek's excellent black and white portraits of Churnchetz at night, around what appears to be the area near Brooklyn Bridge, give the whole package a classic, timeless, feel that adds to the atmosphere of the collection.
Musically the first thing that strikes you about the album is the mastery of different rhythmic and compositional settings. So while the modern fireworks of openers "Being There" and "Schizo" predominantly showcase the invigorating dialogue between Churnchetz's powerful classically influenced piano lines and Shim's muscular tenor sax, on subsequent tracks like "Gonzalost" and "Late" Shim makes prominent use of a midi controller that brings a jazz-funk texture more in a Hancock, or possibly Corea, style. This willingness to experiment with different instrumentation, where the composition benefits, is a definite strength. The variety in the sound palette helps keep the listener engaged and allows the merits of the pieces to emerge.
For all the rhythmic mastery and variety on display elsewhere, Churnchetz shows on the title track and the gorgeous ballad "Without Tomorrow" that this wonderful band are more than able to drop the tempo and wring emotion from the sophisticated compositions when required. Churnchetz has said that "I consider myself to be a composer who aspires to balance intellect with emotion, while never forgetting that music can make people move, dance, and smile" and here he succeeds admirably.
There is also a palpable live feel to the high quality recording that binds the set together. Part of this is the fact that for all the compositional shifts and instrumental twists there is no doubt that this is Churnchetz and Shim's show. The pair take roughly 40% each of the solo time on offer in the ten pieces presented here while the rhythm section of Tordini and Brown provides the foundation and support that enables the soloists to deliver the goods.
The album is dedicated to Churnchetz's mother, who passed away last year, described as his 'biggest inspiration and role model' on the sleeve. While I think the recording would have pre-dated this sad event it is perhaps not too fanciful to suggest a feel of a talented musician looking to repay the faith of loved ones. In some musicians that can reveal an anxiousness, but there is no need for concern as here the opportunities were grasped and chances taken. Mr Churnchetz, this one has come out rather well. Recommended.
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