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Mik Keusen's Blau: Nalu

Greg Simmons By

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Mik Keusen's Blau clearly articulates a musical vision. A typical jazz lineup—piano, bass, drums, and reeds—Nalu spawns music that is anything but typical. Instead, it is post-modern and ambient, with almost industrial rhythmic drive. Nalu is as far from the core of blues and standard-based jazz as Pluto is from the sun.

Tightly composed with very limited improvisation, Nalu's core is it's deep bass lines, layered with concise melodic statements. Pianist Keusen has constructed his music deliberately: "Usually I bring the compositions with a very clear idea about the rhythmical and tonal structures and the sound characteristics into the band. Every musician has to follow a well-defined task." Blau's multi-reed player, Sha, is also a member of Nik Bärtsch's Ronin, which mines a similar structural vein on Llyrìa (ECM 2010).

Instruments have been chosen with careful consideration of how their tones blend with one another. Keusen is particularly fond of the woodiness of the bass clarinet: "Because of its wide tonal range it offers many options. I can use it for melodies but also for bass lines. And it fits perfect between the piano and the double-bass. In general I can say that I feel attracted by wooden sounds." Sha switches between bass clarinet and alto saxophone, and is often integrated with the rhythm section, delivering repetitive notes as double-bassist Anna Trauffer sings a wordless soprano veneer.

This album lives in the lower register, with staccato lines of the double-bass and bass clarinet, sometimes with additional weight from the left hand of the piano. "My preferred range on the piano is the lower part of the middle register," says the pianist, "It has a very solid ground but offers at the same time a lot of space." Even the drums, ably manned by Fredrik Gille, go for the bottom with the prominent application of large, deep toms, tabla, and frame drums.

Nalu can be felt as much as heard: remarkable for a recording of acoustic instruments with no electronic trickery. Fortunately, the recording quality is very good, so the bass impact does not dissolve into sonic mush.

None of this should suggest that Nalu is a challenge to hear. It takes traditional jazz instrumentation and uses it to construct a refreshingly modern perspective. It is not aggressive and does not assault with atonality or screaming. In fact, the grooves of layered repetition are positively entrancing. Keusen clearly has a well-developed concept of what his band should do and how it should sound. The result is an album that is original, unique and deserving of attention.

Track Listing: 25.0; 14.0; 26.0; 21.0; 12.0; 23.0; 22.0.

Personnel: Mik Keusen: piano; Sha: bass clarinet, alto saxophone; Anna Trauffer: double-bass, vocals; Fredrik Gille: percussion.

Title: Nalu | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Tonus-Music-Records

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