Ben Zahler's Songgoing: Quietly Cold

Chris Mosey By

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Swiss flautist Ben Zahler names his principal influences as Herbie Mann and Eric Dolphy. Having said that, he immediately backtracks. Mann was too commercial, Dolphy too experimental. Zahler positions himself somewhere between the two.

He strives to avoid the "streamlined sluggishness" of Mann and similarly has no truck with way-out, overblowing excess a la Dolphy. In very Swiss fashion, he takes a neutral standpoint though—as the sleeve note to the album by Swiss journalist Steff Rohrbach, of Jazz'n'More magazine, points out—his playing is "no frills and cuts no corners."

Zahler says the name "Songgoing" is meant to convey "the idea that our songs are going one step further. They are opening up a bridge, mixing arranged with improvised sections, using advanced harmonies, but still stay within the realm of jazz songs." He names his influences as Dave Douglas, Django Bates, Charles Mingus and Thelonius Monk.

He and his band are little known outside of Switzerland but hope to tour Europe in 2019-20. The band's principal asset is vocalist Isabelle Ritter, reminiscent of Swedish singer Lisa Ekdahl with her lisping "little girl" intonation. But the outfit's jazz credentials are underscored by pianist Thomas Baumgartner, who shares writing chores with Zahler. He is responsible for two numbers on Quietly Cold, "Lullaby For The Wild" and "Andy's Foodcorner."

All the songs are well crafted, with concise lyrics, but "I Like That Paper Moon," a salute to the 1933 Harold Arlen standard "It's Only A Paper Moon," is the one that initially lodges in the memory. Some excellent piano from Baumgartner compliments Zahler's assured flute. The original number was written for an unsuccessful Broadway play, "The Great Magoo," set on Coney Island, and was titled "If You Believed In Me."

"Quietly Cold" pays tribute to the Swiss winter, albeit seen through the window, with burning logs crackling in the fireplace. "So Much Nonsense" gives Ritter a chance to cut loose with a scat vocal after "stop it, I like it" lyrics by Zahler that call for calm but confess "when you scream around angrily you are so pretty." The ending is abrupt but in keeping with the spirit of the song. "Lullaby For The Wild" is, by its own admission, not a lullaby at all: "This lullaby will not make you sleep/Take this song with you on your wild ride."

An album that proves Orson Welles was wrong in his famously cynical assertion (in The Third Man ) that all that Switzerland has produced in 500 years of democracy and peace is... the cuckoo clock.

Track Listing: Off The Hook; Quietly Cold; So Much Nonsense; Lullaby For The Wild; Dancing Elf; I Like That Paper Moon; Long Deep Sleep Song; Snow Dreaming; Andy’s Foodcorner; Strange Enough; More; Falling Gloves Are Always Blue; Monday Morning Move.

Personnel: Ben Zahler: flute, alto flute; Isabelle Ritter: vocals; Thomas Baumgartner: piano; Marco Nenniger: bass.

Title: Quietly Cold | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: TCB Music

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