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Skyjack: The Hunter

Dan Bilawsky By

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This second album from South African-Swiss cooperative Skyjack strikes a smart balance between ideation and instinct. Feedback loops fire the imagination of the album's five participants, with input and output acting and reacting to one another in real time. As on the band's eponymous debut, independence and interdependence each play a role in these romping games. There is, however, a noticeable difference between the dates: While risk bridges both endeavors, there's more rejoicing to be found on this sophomore set.

Tenor saxophonist Marc Stucki, trombonist Andreas Tschopp, pianist Kyle Shepherd, bassist Shane Cooper and drummer Kesivan Naidoo are well-practiced in the art of gleeful experimentation. And their time together, touring annually in either South Africa or Europe for a number of years, has made each of these men better attuned to what makes the others tick. That's clearly demonstrated within the first few minutes of the opening title-track. Slippery riffing, raucous rejoinders and sly winks all contribute to the high times that surface. There's certainly some danger in the music's various designs and dalliances, but everybody is having way too much fun to let it spoil the party. The follow-up—"Loueke"—is introduced with a brief prelude playing on angular ideals and reflective angles. The song proper takes a bit of a different tack. With Cooper and Naidoo driving the trance train, Shepherd making strong impressions early on with West African allusions in his piano work, and the horns syncing up and firing back and forth along the way, the cooler confines of the introduction are nearly forgotten.

As the program plays on, the band burns and burrows into various groove-centric undergrounds. "Loom," set off by Cooper's rubbery and ripe bass brilliance, is a many-tiered work masquerading as a jamming throwdown; the intriguing "aube à l'inconnu," which first finds Stucki and Tschopp exploring the polite-playful axis in free jazz mode, eventually showcases a firmly fathomable five capable of morphing from rock to rounder grooves; "Dream Weaver" casts a spell with painterly-cum-passionate lines set against backdrops drawn with evolutionary arcs; and "Dayanous" closes out the album in style, with Stucki and Naidoo laying out a killer free-funk intro, Cooper and Naidoo hurriedly (and nervously) walking and swinging behind Shepherd, and the combined forces of the quintet riding a strong current of positivity to the close.

How Skyjack hasn't attracted broader notice remains something of a mystery. While there's the obvious ocean of divide—literal and figurative—separating people and jazz audience preferences, one would hope that wouldn't be such a strong factor. If the ears are The Hunter's true prey, they're an easy mark. This music simply needs to get within striking distance.

Track Listing: The Hunter; Loueke Intro; Loueke; Loom; Cubism; aube à l'inconnu; Time with the Masters; Radha IV; Dream Weaver; Dayanous.

Personnel: Marc Stucki: tenor saxophone; Andreas Tschopp; trombone; Kyle Shepherd; piano; Shane Cooper: bass; Kesivan Naidoo: drums.

Title: The Hunter | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: ENJA - Yellowbird

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