Shake Stew - The Golden Fang
(Traumton Records 4639: Review by Peter Slavid)
Austrian jazz has never had a particularly high profile in the UK despite a number of talented musicians dating back to Joe Zawinul. What's more its capital city Vienna boasts one of Europe's great jazz clubs in Porgy and Bess, and there is also a fine jazz festival at Saalfelden. Both of those institutions have been key to the development of the newly created band Shake Stew. The band was brought together, and most of the CD was recorded, either at or on the day before their opening concert for the 2016 festival, and they have since played a series of dates at the club, including one coming up in April with a guest appearance from Shabaka Hutchings.
The band is led by young bass player and composer Lukas Kranzelbinder who is clearly something of a prodigy. At 28 he has already premiered his Spanish jazz opera, run a couple of unusual sounding festivals, and toured Japan and Mexico.
Shake Stew is an unusual line-up with three excellent front-line instrumentalists, Clemens Salesny on alto sax, Johannes Schleiermacher on tenor and Mario Rom on Trumpet (and all three also play flute). That's backed by a strong double rhythm section with two basses - Lukas Kranzelbinder and Manuel Mayr and two drummers Niki Dolp and Herbert Pirker.
Describing the music isn't easy since the tracks are all very different. With that rhythm section you would expect, and get, some heavy funky beats, but then the music will segue into gospel followed by some fierce free improvisation. And the next track might well sound cinematic. There's a bit of poetry that I could have coped without – but it only adds to the delightful unpredictability of the whole thing.
So at various times you can expect to hear conventional solos and free collective improvisations; lyrical and melodic tunes; bent notes and broken rhythms; conventional jazz, eastern melodies, gospel and funk.
The title track, Beware of the Golden Fang is as good an example as any, but only in the sense that it's different to most of the other tracks and from one section to another. Woodblock percussion and bass start off. Next add the drums to get a funky rhythm before a conventional soul riff comes in. A retro melody pops in briefly and the riff returns until everything stops suddenly for a slow flute solo over the bass – then joined by another flute, speeding up, and suddenly it's funky again. Then the percussion pushes under the 1950s style movie tune with everyone take short squawking solo bursts.
And it's all done with a lot of wit and verve.
Of course there is that solid double rhythm section that underpins everything, but there isn't a coherent style here, and that's part of the attraction. Instead there's variety, fun and pace. Bands with two drummers are always visually interesting and this is one I would definitely like to see live. It's one of the most exciting new bands I have come across for a while so lets get them over to the UK please!
Peter Slavid broadcasts a radio programme of European jazz at www.mixcloud.com/ukjazz