This South African / Swiss combo might seem like an unlikely pairing on paper, but turns out to be more than fruitful on record. The Hunter represents the sophomore effort by the collaboration between Swiss winds Marc Stucki and Andreas Tschopp and the South African rhythm section made up of Shane Cooper and Kesivan Naidoo on bass and drums. Kyle Shepherd, who is internationally renowned as being among South Africa's leading progressive jazz artists, skillfully handles the keys, shuffling between ostinato-based patterns and more extroverted improvisations. With a highly balanced blend of straightforward stomping beats on the one hand and intricate melodic arrangements on the other, the five minds together create a blissful sonic landscape that exudes serious musical prowess while keeping the mood positive and light.
A fine line between long, climactic jams over linear structures and carefully composed passages represents an essential part of what makes this record especially accomplished and original. The opening title-track presents this aspect with conviction; introduced by violent trombone and saxophone blows to a frantic drum beat, the tune develops into a festive affair to which saxophone and piano expressively solo. Several unison passages and precise rhythmic accents realized on drums tie the song together. In contrast to the wild exhibitions on the record, calmer-paced ballads such as "Loom" and "Aube a L'inconnu" see the trombone and saxophone melodically spiraling to one another's linesat times in unison, at others in intriguing counterpoint. Neo-soul influenced "Aube a l'inconnu" is driven by the tight foundation in the bass and drums, while the winds take the lead to subtle chordal accompaniment on piano.
Next to pace and structure, the different tones in atmosphere provide further diversity on an album that remains surprising throughout. Beyond the festive and the laid-back comes the urgent and daring in the extensive "Time with the Master" and "Cubism"of which the latter sounds as flamboyant as the name might suggest. The former ends in a fulminant crescendo, while "Cubism" finds the ensemble easing into a striking piano solo. Every tune is a hit, though Shephard-penned "Loueke" reveals another prominent highlight. It is more than likely that the pianist named the tune after Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke, with whom he'd toured extensively throughout 2016 (captured on the release SWR New Jazz Meeting 2016, SWR Jazzhaus, 2017). The song is based around a joyful ostinato made up of pentatonic steps on which the band meditates for an exciting and danceable nine minutes and is reminiscent of Loueke's compositional approach.
This band deserves to be on more radars. Exceptional musicianship, strong compositions and a unique mix of soul, world and fusion styles on a dominant jazz foundation are among the group's strengths, making Skyjack one of the most interesting outfits in 2019. Here's hoping a big audience will follow the impressive bridge these cats have built, geographically as well as musically speaking.
The Hunter; Loueke Intro; Loueke; Loom; Cubism; aube à l'inconnu; Time with the Masters; Radha IV; Dream Weaver;
Marc Stucki: tenor saxophone; Andreas Tschopp; trombone; Kyle Shepherd; piano; Shane Cooper: bass;
Kesivan Naidoo: drums.