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Morten Schantz: Unicorn

Ian Patterson By

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Morten Schantz: Unicorn
Danish pianist/composer Morten Schantz is probably best known as one fifth of Jazz Kamikaze, the globe-trotting band he formed in 2005 with Marius Neset, Kristor Brødsgaard, Daniel Heløy Davidsen and Anton Eger. That may be about to change, as the solo album Unicorn marks a significant wind change in Schantz's trajectory. Inspired writing and scintillating collective playing are the cornerstones, with Schantz' quartet augmented by Morroccon traditional musicians and choir. It's an intoxicating concoction that marks a high point in the pianist's career to date.

Fusion, however, this is not, for blues and swing course through the veins of much of the music, as on Schantz's previous solo album Conveyance (Daywood Drive Records, 2011). The pianist's trademark melodicism is much to the fore but rhythmically, Unicorn is more dynamic than anything Schantz has previously committed to record. Acoustic bassist Morten Ankarfeldt, drummer Janus Templeton and percussionist Ayi Solomon form a lithe rhythm section whose industry informs the music significantly, while Shantz's own rhythmic meter—particularly in his left-hand comping—exhibits great elasticity and assertiveness.

Schantz's knack of conjuring stirring melodies whilst grooving hard is best exemplified on the stunning title track and the no-less impressive "Bab Al Bahr." His pronounced two-handed technique on flowing solos embraces both classical and jazz vocabulary and is evocative of Brad Mehldau at his mercurial best. On the elegant, bluesy "Abdeltef" Schantz' touch and agile motivic development—coupled with Solomon's percolating percussion—are suggestive of Ahmad Jamal's influence. That said, Schantz has one of the most instantly recognizable of voices and quartet tunes like the atmospheric "Anzar"—with an achingly pretty piano and bass intro—and "Solomon's Creek" boast striking melodies that could almost have come from a Jazz Kamikaze session.

North African street sounds and Lyna Ben El Mouaz Slimani El Hassani's ethereal wordless song on "El Medina" evoke the romance and earthy bustle of the Magreb. Lapping waves bookend "Bab Al Bahr," whose narrative is built upon cantering quartet interplay, peaking with André Jensen's dramatic trombone intervention. The centerpiece of the album, however, is the epic "Chaouen." Saad Chainane's probing oud lines and infectious layered percussion—with shakers like hissing snakes—contrast with Schantz' lightly dancing, repetitive piano motifs. The arrival of a multi-voice choir lifts the music to rapturous heights, underpinned by driving Gnawa percussion. It's a thrilling, celebratory composition that begs repeat listening.

Ankarfeldt's killing bass motif is the heart beat of the smoldering "Rif," with Schantz' flowing lyricism foregrounded. Arabic flute, arco and oud tread lightly before piano and bass unite on the ostinato, working it repeatedly before signing off with a punchy three-note exclamation. The one non-original composition is Calvin Harris' "We Found Love"; this artful deconstruction of Rihanna's mega hit sees Schantz adopt the core rhythm while improvising freely. It works wonderfully well and opens up a whole world of future interpretative possibilities.

Compelling from first note to last, Unicorn may be the record that propels Schantz to the same level of international recognition currently enjoyed by Jazz Kamikaze band mate Neset. Vital, emotive and ultimately uplifting, Unicorn provides splendid evidence of Schantz' rather unique talent.

Track Listing

Unicorn; El Medina; Anzar; Bab Al Bahr; Chaouen; Rif; Abdeltef; Solomon’s Creek; We Found Love.

Personnel

Morten Schantz: piano, vibraphones; Morten Ankarfeldt: double bass; Janus Templeton: drums; Ayi Solomon: percussion; Omar Azrour: rebab; Saad Chainane: oud, ganbri; Lyna Ben El Mouaz Slimani El Hassani: vocals; André Jensen: trombone; students of ISADAC: choir

Album information

Title: Unicorn | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Calibrated

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