On Space Messengers, Austrian musician Wolfgang Schalk proves to be an explosively inventive guitarist and a gifted, challenging composer. Backed by an alert, vibrant rhythm section, he digs deep into eight original compositions, improvising with considerable intelligence, passion, and swing.
In the CD booklet, Schalk cites Pat Martino as one of his primary influences, and indeed, the Austrian possesses a clarion, ringing guitar sound that recalls Martino. Yet Schalk is very much his own man. He plays with an attractive lyricism, enabling some of his phrases to float over the rhythm section, and one of his most intriguing strategies is a seemingly effortless tendency to insert unexpected chordal passages into a single-note line. To my ears, his finest improvising comes on the rockish "Frame Up." Playing what sounds like an amplified acoustic guitar, Schalk tears into the changes with relentless power and soaring invention.
Yet, as good as these guitar solos are (and they are very, very good), the compositions themselves are what first catch the ear. Schalk creates impressive structures for improvisation, and he fits each and every structure with a hip, catchy melody. If other musicians pick up on these tunes, every single one of them has the potential to become a jazz standard.
Of course, this album's success is also rooted in the exemplary rhythm section. This is a working band whose empathy is clearly audible. They flow and dance through the intricacies of Schalk's compositions, and they swing with grace and power. Andy McKee's booming bass sound is an asset, and drummer Ian Froman keeps things interesting. Put simply, pianist Dave Kikoski is in excellent form throughout. Highly recommended.
Space Messengers; Gossip; The Bell Song; Anyways; Why Ypsilon; Hi There; Peoples; Frame Up.
All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.
You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.