THAT MOMENT when the ears prick up and the spine tingles. In the world of contemporary jazz, it happens fairly frequently… but not so often to this level. Debuting on the Whirlwind label, Slovenian pianist/keyboardist and composer Marco Churnchetz may just have entered the annual ‘best of’ stakes with Devotion – an outstanding programme of originals.
New York-based Churnchetz (Črnčec) is clearly influenced by the 1970s explosion of seminal keyboard creatives, including Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. Together with an exceptional Stateside quartet – Mark Shim (tenor sax, midi controller), Christopher Tordini (basses) and Justin Brown (drums) – he melds stylish post-bop jazz and progressive jazz/rock grooves into an intoxicatingly distinctive fusion. And all presided over by his own staggering pianistic proficiency.
Being There is a suitably sizzling curtain-raiser, the quartet’s acoustic personae bristling with energy, Churnchetz and tenorist Mark Shim quite breathtaking in their relentless extemporisations. Here is a band high in confidence, in full control – yet this is only for starters! The rapid piano and Patrick Moraz-like midi synth runs of feverish, flamencan Schizo prepare the way for the most incredibly gritty tenor show from Shim… and it’s the pin-sharp rhythmic edge provided by double bassist Tordini and drummer Brown which perpetuates the tingling excitement. Title track Devotion cymbal-shimmers to the lyrical meanderings of piano and tenor – a beautifully open and considered ballad which demonstrates this quartet’s shared intuition, building in intensity with Shim reaching his higher register.
The jazz fusion pizazz of Gonzalost (presumably a reference to the brilliance of Afro-Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba) is one of the finest recorded displays I have experienced all year. The perfect electric bass and Fender Rhodes groove partnership here summons memories of Bill Bruford’s late ’70s solo releases (Dave Stewart, Jeff Berlin), Shim carrying the pitch-bent synth torch brightly, and Justin Brown (fix the ‘drum cam’ on him!) absolutely scintillating at the kit. Complete with infectious Latin piano octaves and tremendous band co-ordination throughout, this is one for iPod repeat mode. A brief Interprelude keeps the pot boiling, leading to similarly blazing (and appropriately titled) Risk Free, characterised by highly-charged tenor and piano, and inhabitating a sound world which nods to the likes of Weather Report and the Moutin Reunion Quartet. Running at eight minutes (and in common with most of the tracks), there is space for themes and ideas to develop, Shim’s searching tenor displaying Shorteresque beauty, and Justin Brown magnificent in hard-hitting complexity.
Shim’s mellifluous tenor lead in Without Tomorrow is achingly beautiful against supporting acoustic piano, bass and drums – an exquisite repose before the keyboard-fest of Late sparkles to the retro-imbued mix of Rhodes, midi controller, electric bass and drums (sans sax) – utterly irresistible. The closing Improvisation finds Churnchetz’s solo piano animated, rippling and enquiring – a raw glimpse of his unfettered creative genius.
Released on 7 July 2014, further information and purchasing can be found here.
A wondrous release – not to be missed!
Marko Churnchetz piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboards
Mark Shim tenor saxophone, Yamaha Wind electric MIDI controller
Christopher Tordini acoustic bass, electric bass
Justin Brown drums
Whirlwind Recordings – WR4653 (2014)