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Michaela Rabitsch & Robert Pawlik Quartet: Voyagers

Ian Patterson By

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Trumpeter Michaela Rabitsch and guitarist Robert Pawlik's partnership spans fifteen years and, until now, three joint recordings. Their fourth recording presents another offering of all-originals, following Moods (Extrapolate, 2009), and is inspired by tours of Europe, Asia and Africa. Melody and groove are firmly to the forefront, evoking Balkan, Spanish and Arabic moods, as well as the Americas. Instantly appealing melodies and the generally sunny disposition of the music should make this a hit with lovers of smooth jazz, but strong soloing from Rabitsch and Pawlik—plus tight quartet interplay—lends a greater sophistication to these highly listenable numbers.

The catchy "Seven Ways to Fez" dances back and forth between the swirling sounds of the Maghreb—with drummer Dusan Novakov's darbuka combing with edgy trumpet over an Arabic flavored-bass and guitar ostinato—and a lilting pop melody sung by Rabitsch. There's an air of Bulgarian folk in Pawlik's guitar intro to the straight-ahead "Varna"; trombonist Robert Bachner and trumpet join in mellifluous harmony, with Bachner delivering a meaty solo. Rabitsch's solo seduces but fades a little too soon. Whether playing open or with mute, Rabitsch's impressive playing has a clear, warm tone.

Pawlik's funk riff and fluid guitar lines on "Unique" hark back to 1970s Earl Klugh, though Novakov's drum feature adds some bite. Rabitsch's singing has a lovely rhythmic flow, as does her scatting, which shares the same breezy momentum of Brazilian singer Joyce. "The Long Road" is inspired by Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, though Rabitsch's beautifully plaintive melody could have once belonged to Ennio Morricone. Between the opening and closing heads Rabitsch and Pawlik give expressive solos whose emotive cores take their cue from Stanko.

On "Siberian Rhapsody" Raoul Herget's tuba stokes the engine as trumpet, trombone, guitar and driving drums create a stirring celebration straight out of a Taraf de Haïdouks set. Pawlik's biting guitar work and Rabitsch's rough-edged trumpet solo are both suitably uninhibited and energetic. By way of contrast, the jazzy "Walk in the Sun" could have been sung by trumpeter Louis Armstrong, with Rabitsch tackling singing, scat and trumpet duties with effortless swing. Pawlik's shines once more on a sinewy solo before providing chords around which bassist Joe Abentung stretches out, followed in turn by Novakov.

Elsewhere, muted trumpet breathes Andalucían air on "Malaga," a sprightly tune featuring fine, Spanish-flavored soloing. A gently swinging version of pianist Thelonious Monk's jazz ballad, "'Round Midnight," showcases Rabitsch's distinctive and warm voice, but might also have worked very well as an instrumental. Keyboardist Erwin Bader, combined with guitar and drums, provides a funk 'n' blues base on "Money," another catchy vocal number crying out for radio airplay. "Cinefuegos" is a Cuban-inspired bolero of sorts with a killing guitar motif, its smoldering rhythm setting Pawlik and Rabitsch up for a couple of fine closing solos.

Rabitsch and Pawlik have trawled the rhythms and melodies of half the world, yet instead of serving up a world music pastiche they have crafted a contemporary jazz record that's melodically satisfying, grooving, and with mighty impressive chops to boot.

Track Listing: Seven Ways to Fez; Varna; Unique; The Long Road; Serbian Rhapsody; Walk in the Sun; Malaga; Round Midnight; Money; Cienfuegos.

Personnel: Michaela Rabitsch: vocals, trumpet; Robert Pawlik: guitar; Joe Abentung: bass; Dusan Novakov: drums, percussion.

Title: Voyagers | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Extraplatte

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