Dedicated to our planet, Země finds Denmark-based saxophonist Lubos Soukup's Quartet joined by Lionel Loueke for a rich set of earthy tunes (pun intended). Translated from the Czech Zeme, each title on "earth" is tightly intertwined with nature in name and atmosphere. Not allowing the slightest hypocrisy to shine through, even the booklet of the quartet's third outing is made of recycled paper and it's content ends on a formal dedication to Mother Earth and a very aware "May our planet find the balance."
Not only does the packaging of this project present itself encouragingly, but the music promisingly sets out as well, starting with the eponymous "Země (earth)." A highly percussive intro featuring Loueke's trademark scatting builds up to a fine ostinato presented in unison by saxophone, guitar and piano. The melody spreads positive vibrations and is infused with an ethnic edge one mistakenly might attribute to Loueke's contribution. In truth, all compositions, excluding the closing Czech folk song "Na Bilé hore (On the White Mountain)," were written by front man Soukup. And while many compositions here do work with pentatonic scales and rhythmical exercises that recall an ethnic edge, it is especially Loueke's contribution of hymnal chant and percussive interjections that color the entire record in the specific shade found on most of past years releases featuring the unique guitarist.
"Dark Shark" continues down the same promising path but in a darker mood-diffusing an almost hauntingly melancholic atmosphere. Reduced to a quartet but still energetic and effective, "The Red Sea" displays yet another catchy melody, this time drawing from oriental scales, and showcases both Soukup's skills on clarinet and Christian Pabst's fulminant piano work.
While the low-key ballad "Shikara" comes at a fitting moment for calming down the pace and delicately cloaks the listener in a dynamic exchange of glances and dialogues between the players, the record has a hard time at picking it up again afterward. Melodies become less memorable and tend to blend into each other in an inconsequential way.
Naturally, the band's level of musicianship remains high nonetheless and they consciously construct dreamy soundscapes, as demonstrated on the moodily trotting "Smoke." For those who prefer a more classic bop approach to jazz, the group, again reduced to its core quartet, goes at it with vigor and fire on punchy "Falling Star."
Seeing how Soukop is the head of the band and sole composer, the sense of a true group effort comes all the more striking and elevates the entire venture. Every player is equally relevant here and adds a personal touch leading to a unique and adventurous offering.
Země (Earth); Dark Shark; The Red Sea; Shikara; White Horse; C; Falling Star; Smoke; Na Bílé hoře (On the
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