STEAMING FULL AHEAD, Swiss pianist Christoph Stiefel and his colleagues steer a different directional course with a second UK trio release, ‘Big Ship’ – following the isorhythmic emphasis of 2012’s ‘Live!’ album – on a journey of deeper and more melodic jazz exploration.
Stiefel’s compositional and pianistic range is impressive – often full-on-energetic and infectiously rhythmic; at other times, finding delicately reflective backwaters. And in bassist Arne Huber and drummer Kevin Chesham, he has discovered two empathetic musicians who bring their own particular expertise, sophistication and spark to these eleven originals.
Setting sail, Thalatta instantly demonstrates the Inner Language Trio’s intent – piano, bass and drums propelling forward positively with velocity and verve. Although the piece is characterised by Cristoph Stiefel’s lush chordal textures and driving momentum, he also clearly relishes the opportunity to produce high, rapid solo runs which veer into alternative keys to create a delightfully acidic edge. Attitudes’ piano voice possesses similar wayward impudence over a jaunty 5/4 +7/4 left-hand ostinato; playful bass and crashing percussion happily implicated in the lively cheekiness of it all.
Contrasting well, the quietly shifting major/minor beauty of Elegy is emphasised by Arne Huber’s rounded bass sonority and Kevin Chesham’s subtle perpetual-motion brushed snare and soft cymbals – all so perfectly poised. Pyramid is a stand-out, Stiefel’s array of arpeggioed, jagged and clear solo lines dancing prominently over subtly-muted left-hand piano chords, and a swift, bubbling tempo maintained by Huber and Chesham.
Full of lyrical finesse and measured intensity, New May is defined as much by space as by sound – eight minutes of melodic tenderness, paring down to Stiefel’s blues-grooved solo conclusion (fading all too soon). Title number Big Ship cruises at a fairly brisk rate of knots, Huber quietly vocalising his scampering bass. Stiefel’s sprightly contrapuntal and chordal display eventually invites bass and drums to intensify the pace, Chesham adding clangs, chimes and fizz throughout to great effect. First Blossom‘s charming solo piano brevity leads to the gyrations of The Dance – highly charged, yet never boiling over, it’s a particularly compelling performance incorporating prepared/muted piano strings, bells and handclaps.
The tuneful simplicity of South is followed by Angel Falls, a combination of tumbling energy and shimmering piano-led eddies amid suggestions of Stiefel’s familiar isorhythmic style. Vividly-painted Solar Glider, from tense take-off to free-flight, is a graceful album closer, the trio swirling both elatedly and calmly (with occasional buffeting) before disappearing into the blue yonder.
All this amounts to an excellent hour of jazz creativity and originality. For those who love the unpredictable excitement and invention of, say, the Alboran, Avishai Cohen or Baptiste Trotignon trios, ‘Big Ship’ (with its striking, bold cover art) is to be highly recommended. Released in the UK on 24 February 2014 by Basho Records, the album launch follows at The Forge, London, on 2 April.
Christoph Stiefel piano
Arne Huber bass
Kevin Chesham drums
Basho Records – SRCD 44-2