Prior to Color Wheel’s eponymous debut on Chris Speed’s Skirl Records in 2017, I knew very little of Ammann’s music. The Swiss-born pianist’s career took root in Europe, but after a period of study in New York he decided against making the return journey.
Recent projects have included the quartet with saxophonist Ohad Talmor heard on Samadhi (Fresh Sounds, 2013), a stint on Hammond B3 in the rock-based Gary Douglas Band, and a some rather more exploratory collaborations with improvisers Kris Davis, Tony Malaby and Gene Ess.
Color Wheel were formed shortly after Ammann’s graduation in 2012, and fans of the long-form free-bop of Vinny Golia, Gerry Hemingway or Simon Nabatov will surely enjoy this music. For this, the group’s second outing, Ammann has considerably broadened the tonal palette simply by adding the extraordinary Samuel Blaser. The core group of saxophonist Michaël Attias (Anthony Braxton), bassist Noah Garabedian (Ravi Coltrane) and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell (Michael Formanek) is otherwise unchanged.
Opening with the kaleidoscopic Yayoi, the piece was inspired by Japanese visual artist Yayoi Kusama. Reflective dream-like passages connect fluidly with angular rhythmic passages, where individual expression is given free rein. At almost 12 minutes in length Untangled has time to cover a phenomenal amount of ground. Its dancing opening theme spins like a graceful Calder mobile before Blaser takes an ebullient solo which runs the entire range of his horn. Attias then follows up with a fiery solo which moves from fluid post-bop to skronk, but Ammann’s clearly delineated compositional structures somehow survive the challenge unscathed.
Castello Di Traliccio introduces Ammann’s Rhodes, and its echoes of early electric Miles create a pleasingly warm afterglow. The title track is a modal meditation fashioned after John and Alice Coltrane, while Carla Bley’s King Korn skilfully traverses the line between Tristano and Paul Bley without ever being too reverential. The spatially disorienting installations of visual artist Fred Sandback inspire the extraordinary closing track Pedestrian Space. An experiment in intersecting metres, it is by some stretch the most conceptual of the nine pieces.
Resilience is at once stretching and accessible, and Ammann’s tight-knit group have succeeded in finding that sometimes elusive “sweet spot” between freedom of expression and structural integrity.
Yayoi: Untangled; Castello di Traliccio; Resilience; King Korn Revisited; Aylan Kurdi; The Traveller; Afterthought; Pedestrian Space (57.12)
Michael Attias (as); Samuel Blaser (tb); Ammann (p, elp); Noah Garabedian (b); Nathan Ellman-Bell (d). 11 June 2018, Brooklyn.
Skirl Records 047