Squakk: Willisau & Berlin

John Sharpe By

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Squakk: Willisau & Berlin
Four Germans combine for a set that recalls some of the classic Anthony Braxton quartet sides with George Lewis or Ray Anderson from the 1970s. Common ground abounds in their free-bop structures and the delightful interplay as between reeds and trombone as they slip in and out of both tunes and time. There are also other precedents closer to home such as reedman Frank Gratkowski's combo with trombonist Wolter Wierbos. But whatever the inspiration, a palpable sense of fun allied to a liberal attitude to mining jazz history provide some of the dominant characteristics of this selection, pairing a live 2013 date in Switzerland with a 2012 studio session in Berlin.

Squakk has existed as a outfit for over seven years, built upon foundations forged by multiple previous collaborations. For those less familiar with the Berlin scene reedman Rudi Mahall may be most celebrated among its number from his tenure with pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach's Monks Casino, which also boasts bassist Jan Roder. Mahall's vocalized bass clarinet, reveling in explosive yelps and leaps between registers, forms part of a splendid front line with Christof Thewes' garrulous nimble trombone. On drums Michael Griener is crisp and precise, forming a finely honed unit with Roder, adept at the quicksilver recalibration which enlivens the mix of eight charts and two improvs.

Thewes' lengthy "Nova Swing" engenders deft give and take across the whole group. They speed up and slow down, touch on march styles and showcase individual talent across its 20-minute plus duration. Nine shorter cuts follows, which at times function almost as sketches. Over in just a couple of minutes, "Blue Chili Out" is a languid ballad, featuring Roder's bass as the horns mutter, while "Draw" possesses a sprightly theme established by repetition which prompts Mahall's clarinet to move from bluesy cry to braying overtones. "Was Aus" passes in a Latin-tinged rhythm replete with woozy swoons. "Schlimmer geht Nimmer/ Schlimmer geht immer" delivers more free-bop, squeezing a multitude of references into its 8 minutes including snatches of Dixieland polyphony. Like the rest of the album, it leaves a smile on the face.

Track Listing

Nova Swing; Blue Chili Out; Draw; A Dune, Perhaps; Mostly Harmless; Was Aus; Schlimmer geht Nimmer/ Schlimmer geht immer; Trinkled; Lark's Wail; Aud Der Schnerr.


Michael Griener: drums; Rudi Mahall: bass clarinet; clarinet; baritone saxophone; Jan Roder: double bass; Christof Thewes: trombone.

Album information

Title: Willisau & Berlin | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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