IF IT ISN’T already impressive that this quartet recorded new album Cerca over just two days – in Cologne, around their touring schedule – the resulting studio capture of ten exciting new compositions is nothing short of brilliant.
Paragon have been on the scene for a decade, releasing two previous albums in that time (amongst numerous other projects), forging a distinctive fusion of instrumental jazz and blues imbued with a profusion of world and retro influences. Sharing writing credits here are saxophonist Peter Ehwald and pianist Arthur Lea, with Matthias Nowak (bass) and Jon Scott (drums) completing the Anglo-German line-up.
Key to the band’s individuality are the remarkably varicoloured textures and effects shaped by Lea’s Fender Rhodes – and immediately it’s Lea and his own Cerca de Ti that glistens with keyboard sparkle to the recognisable spiky drum signature of Jon Scott (as heard in Kairos 4tet, Dice Factory, Monocled Man, etc.). Matthias Nowak’s bass grooves are resonant and melodic, frequently doubling Lea’s phrases, and there’s an appealing, brisk confidence to Ehwald’s alto – it’s a boisterous opener, evidencing the band’s cohesion and like-mindedness. East to West and the later North to South are miniatures from Ehwald’s pen whose explorations are more spacial, the latter gradually teasing and accelerating its way with great alto grit towards a Soft Machine-like wah-wahed Rhodes riff. Unsurprisingly, Delhi Belly swirls animatedly to bhangra-style motifs in which Ehwald luxuriates, Lea contributing progressively flamboyant glissandi and tremulant gyrations; Nowak’s bass is always beautifully prominent and inventive (no mere support), and Scott never disappoints, constantly shifting emphases and pulling new tricks out of the stick bag.
Ehwald’s Bohdan is a firecracker of a tune, snapping and changing course at every opportunity, featuring his extended, fluid sax runs coupled with bluesy piano from Lea who also switches into sputtering, echoic prog. jazz electronics over intense bass and drums; and whilst there’s a clear sense of written structure, the band always bubbles assuredly with improvisatory freedom – a real pleasure to hear. Arco bass introduces the quietly unsettled, irregular pulse of Glory, a nevertheless beautifully-weighted piece which features Ehwald upfront in soft, reflective and slightly melancholy vein; and the following ’60s-suggested Blue Eyes White Dragon provides contrast with its chirpy shared sax/Rhodes melodies over an infectiously shuffling rhythm, Lea’s sustained Rhodes daring to masquerade as a Hammond – ‘love it!
Fat Pig‘s title perhaps belies the sumptuousness of its nature, Peter Ehwald’s laid-right-back tenor and Arthur Lea’s classic Rhodes timbre wallowing splendidly in an intriguing, shimmering undercurrent of double bass, cymbals and hard snare/toms – another of the manifold sound worlds this quartet can conjure. At times, mysterious and questioning, Linguine moves with ease and, featuring fine extended soloing from both Ehwald and Lea, hangs together superbly in its subtly NYC way. Similarly, the Ballade which closes the album is perfectly realised, the eloquent bass solo of Nowak complementing the soft, Paul Desmond-like characteristics of Ehwald’s balladic playing – and with that quintessential Rhodes ambience… all is well.
Released in the UK on 13 October 2014 by Jellymould Jazz, Cerca comes from a band who are, indeed, a paragon of contemporary jazz excellence – one foot in the tradition, the other pushing forward with the combined fervour and eclecticism of their experiences. This is very much a repeat-player, and I suspect they are thrilling to catch ‘live’ (UK dates below).
Peter Ehwald saxophones
Jon Scott drums
Arthur Lea Fender Rhodes
Matthias Nowak double bass
2014 UK tour dates
28 October: Schmazz, Jazz Café, Newcastle
30 October: The Spin @ The Wheatsheaf, Oxford
31 October: LAUNCH – The Crypt, London
02 November: Milestones Jazz Club, Hotel Hatfield, Lowestoft
03 November: Jazz Café, Clifford Arms, Teignmouth
04 November: Jazz Club, Western Hotel, St Ives
Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ014 (2014)