It was a while ago that my understanding of the German Jazz scene involved a lot of free playing, ECM's stable and Klaus Doldinger's Passport. And that was about it, for all I knew. The usual oversimplifying.
How about Chris Grab, who possesses a nice round tenor sax tone and a tonal wit that recalls Sam Rivers? His quartet (Dieter Ulrich, drums; Chris Sprenger, bass; Flo Stoffner, guitar) bounce and twist, cushioning Herr Grab's serpentine melodies ("Smart Rebels," "Korper") and sly atmospheric blueses ("Truthahn").
Not a lot of twentieth-century classical signifiers hereupon as we sometimes hear in European Jazz, but there is an elite understanding of another time, another set of parameters seen via a modern (not modernist) POV.
During "Truthahn," Chris G's late break awakens the ghosts of Charlie Rouse and Paul Desmond for a turn about the floor, and Stoffner's guitar reels in the sentiment with a nice tartness.
Ulrich's chatty twenty-four bars does double duty for rhythm and theme and out. Cool! These folks can swing in the classic manner.
Grab trots out a wise, reserved melody for the slow one, "Soulmate," under Stoffner's John Abercrombie-like chording, while Sprenger and Ulrich stay way back as if in another room. A sense of space predominates here, and it's not those theoretical spaces between instruments or the paths they are taking through a musical ether of chance I'm referring to here-it's a simple twirl of the volume knob. Funny how effective it is.
"Amors Amok" exhibits Stoffner's harder edge, as in the middle bit he ambles about the tune's chords with a Bill Frisell-like attack; though to be fair, Stoffner's trajectory is far more linear than Frisell's cyclic lines. And closing off the CD is "Circle of Life" (not the Elton John ditty, nice though it is for the big finish at the end of Lion King), a philosophical trance piece with a well-placed rearview mirror.
Poignant, nice breaks by Grab and notable support by Sprenger (who for my money should have been better miked). A good way to end the date.
Herr Grab is a fellow we should hear more about, and soon. This one's a keeper.
by Ken Egbert
Copyright Jazz Now, September 2005, all rights reserved.
Jazz Now Interactive September 2005 Vol 15 No. 5 - Table of Contents