‘We Make The Rules’ – Jochen Rueckert

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THE MAXIM of German drummer, composer and bandleader Jochen Rueckert is certainly meritorious as his quartet releases We Make The Rules, captured following an international tour: “I’m getting a little allergic to ‘project style recordings’, where you play music in the studio without being able to fine tune it on the road. All said and done, the music on the album was recorded in only seven hours and six of the tracks are first takes, the rest second takes. The perks of having a working band!”.

That ethos is palpable in the assured immediacy of his interaction with fellow NYC-based band members Mark Turner (tenor sax), Lage Lund (electric guitar) and Matt Penman (acoustic bass), with whom he has worked for the last few years – all nine numbers here were written specifically for this grouping. It’s a sequence that requires ‘total immersion’ to fully appreciate its experiential depth, as these musicians are experts in detail and have evidently honed Rueckert’s technical, written frameworks before embarking with their panoply of break-loose extemporisations – there’s never any sense that this quartet is safely going through the motions.

The luxuriance of Mark Turner’s tenor is immediately apparent in opening number Eggshells, perfectly matched to the mellow solo and chordal reverberations of Lage Lund’s guitar; and Matt Penman and Jochen Rueckert provide its sensitive, detailed rhythmic buoyancy. Pretty From Afar displays a similar line of accomplishment, with a freer central section which finds guitar and sax weaving ideas together, the balance beautifully observed; and fans of TV’s Breaking Bad, take note – Saul Goodman swaggers to fine bass work from Penman (‘s’all good, man!).

Title track We Make The Rules is delightfully ebullient – and Rueckert, though never dominating proceedings, underpins his three colleagues’ improvisations with increasingly strident, ticking complexity. Slow ballad Bess glides unerringly to the softness of bass and drums, Turner’s congenial tenor lines melding effortlessly with Lund’s lusciously-woven chords; and there’s a mischievous streak to The Cook Strait which invites a more open dialogue amongst the quartet.

Rueckert’s cerebrally-intended Alloplasty is characterised by the enhanced echoings of Lund’s guitar, and the entire sequence ripples pleasingly to impressive drum patterns and Turner’s eloquent searchings. Following, the faster swing of Yellow Bottoms encourages Lund further into the spotlight with his measured-yet-leftfield creativity – a joy to hear; and finally, Manong Twilight At The Whatever Hotel (inspired by an artwork by the composer’s late jazz aficionado uncle) comfortably relaxes into a sublime, soporific haze in which tenorist Mark Turner basks.

Jochen Rueckert’s Whirlwind debut may not shout out strongly memorable melodies or revolutionary techniques – but it radiates an understated warmth and sophistication which is so very appealing. Released on 13 October 2014, visit the We Make The Rules album page for further information, audio samples, promo video and purchasing.

 

Mark Turner tenor sax
Lage Lund electric guitar
Matt Penman acoustic bass
Jochen Rueckert drums

jochenrueckert.net

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4658 (2014)

‘v2.0’ – GoGo Penguin

GoGo

THESE ARE EXCITING TIMES for the jazz piano trio – and Manchester-based GoGoPenguin are key movers in a current new wave of line-ups that eschew the traditional idea of pianist leader and supporting rhythmic duo for a totally democratic and, therefore, absorbing concept in sound.

The band’s debut release, ‘Fanfares’ (2012), created considerable ripples of interest on the British scene, as well as much further afield, with their obvious e.s.t.-influenced grooves (confirmed, as Svensson fans would recognise, by the opening track title, ‘Seven Sons of Bjorn’). That tantalising 35-minute recording, hailed by critics, no doubt found a quickly-gathering fan base clamouring for the next chapter, whilst finding the subsequent live experiences every bit as engaging – those present at the band’s hometown gigs at Band On The Wall (that I, too, witnessed) would, I’m sure, be happy to concur.

It’s important to recognise now, though, that GoGo Penguin are not “the next Esbjörn Svensson Trio” (nor could they be, given the Swedish band’s untouchable seminal status) – and I hazard a guess that Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (double bass) and Rob Turner (drums) would see it that way, too. So, what is both gratifying and thrilling about this new follow-up release, ‘v2.0’, is that the trio are already clearly honing a sound which appears to be uniquely theirs, Blacka and Turner providing the distinctive and frequently blistering up-front dance-groove edge. The resultant effect is mesmeric and trance-like (think ‘Aphex Twin’), with such breathtaking precision of metre to almost sound electronic… but with the satisfaction that it’s not! Illingworth, too, displays great mastery of his instrument, exploring the gamut of techniques and expression as well as, at times, seemingly employing Roland Kirk’s ability to ‘split his brain in two’ to state one melody with his right hand and another with his left – rapid electronica or anthemic breadth, his grand piano offers it all.

What better illustration of the band’s sparky originality than Garden Dog Barbecue? – Chris Illingworth’s zippy right-hand piano melodies over grungy, leaping left-hand fifths chords shared with buzzing bass, and all sped along by breakneck skittering drums, plus some terrific rhythmic and tempo changes. Opening track, Murmuration, reveals the trio’s alter ego – beautifully-considered, sustained and repetitive piano against bubbling bass and drums, intensifying in stature with electronically-echoic arco bass until the flocking avian display it suggests disperses to nothingness. Kamaloka brings to the fore Turner’s extraordinarily complex electro/techno drum likeness which drives a bright, arpeggio-accompanied piano tune, as does the following Fort, Blacka’s rasping bass combining so well with drums to its abrupt close. Not since Stefano Bollani’s live solo piano interpretation of a scratched vinyl LP have I heard the skills that are to be found in One Percent; already a compelling, bustling and highly-charged number, the final 45 seconds convincingly simulate, through a variety of closely-timed rhythms, a skipping CD – from an acoustic trio, this is something which has to be heard to be believed, and raises a smile with me every time!

Home‘s infectious groove is again down to the brilliant interaction between Blacka and Turner, laying down a relentless and very listenable ground for Illingworth’s strong piano melodies, and Blacka’s big, scampering bass sound resonating clearly at the close. Recorded in total darkness, The Letter is characterised by a heavy, sprawling and perhaps menacing pulse. To Drown In You continues the darker feel with its hint of Philip Glass piano and ethereal bowed bass… and with what is becoming Turner’s trademark percussive sound, his staccatoed rhythms shared with Blacka’s bass, and the huge energy of Illingworth’s ‘split piano’, this is a standout. The brief, spacial Shock and Awe, against a tense metronome-like tick, carries a palpable weight of emotion and presents another side to the trio – perhaps something for future concepts. Lucid and vibrant, Hopopono closes the album with an impressive summing-up of this band’s evident empathy and, perhaps even, telepathy.

Credit to sound engineers Joe Reiser and Brendan Williams for clarity of production, this release resembles a huge step forward in GoGo Penguin’s development – and the next gig will certainly be something to look forward to (see below). ‘v2.0’ is released by Gondwana Records on 17 March 2014, available from Bandcamp.


Chris Illingworth
piano
Nick Blacka double bass
Rob Turner drums

Live gigs:
27 March 2014: Pizza Express Jazz Club – Thump Festival
29 March 2014: Black Box, Belfast – Brilliant Corners Festival
5 April 2014: The Sage, Gateshead – Gateshead International Jazz Festival

Gondwana Records (2014)