Pius Baschnagel is the excellent, kicking and swinging, colouring and listening drummer on the Zurich Jazz Orchestra’s recent Dedications, a recording which my review deemed worthy of comparison with the great Change Of Scenes by Stan Getz and The Kenny Clarke – Francy Boland Big Band. With the exception of Reto Suhner, a fine player, all the members of the closely attuned quintet which Baschnagel leads here appear on Dedications.
So I was expecting something a touch special from this elegantly packaged release from the distinguished Mons label. And boy, did I get it! Baschnagel is an extremely tasty drummer, with something of both the “snap crackle” of Roy Haynes and the cross-rhythmic mastery and temporal imagination of Tony Williams. He has spoken of being wary of over-conceptualised music, of his leaning towards the emotion and spontaneity of the improvised moment – and it’s not for nothing that there are three pieces here entitled Freedom. The beautiful thing is, Baschnagel possesses the rare and most pleasing ability to offer the sort of characterful, lucid compositional frameworks which can facilitate precisely such freedom, emotion and spontaneity.
With the exception of Patrick Sommer’s bass-led and Township-inflected Happy Kid, all the pieces here are from Baschnagel’s literate yet open hand. They conjure a music marked, overall, by a crisply sprung yet elastic rhythmic vitality and a shape-shifting approach to matters of melody and atmosphere, voicings and dynamics. Employing a wide yet finely intermeshed sound spectrum, the multi-layered – yet, once again, lucid – whole carries considerable poetic weight.
Although there are occasional distant echoes of the tone-palette of Joe Zawinul, Baschnagel’s music doesn’t sound like Weather Report. But it shares with that surpassing outfit a strong capacity for storytelling, the ability to refigure our sense of the relations between composition and improvisation, solo voice and group colour, abstracted meditation and full-on affirmation.
Hear the joyous, tightly driven romp that is Yerba Buena Con Click, the diversely floated and weighted reflections of the shuffle-turned title track or the ad libitum, cross-rhythmic group poetry of George and its subsequent Epilog, where rubato flute, trombone and a percussive carpet of “ little noises” are to the fore. For everything else in this most invigorating and satisfying release, programmed in a continuous, suite-like manner and delivered by musicians consistently able to match high technical quality with a considerable poetic sensitivity, hear – and relish – everything else in the multi-stranded achievement that is Timeline Promenade. A superb release.
Zwänzgewänzg; Carrer De Bilbao; Freedom 3; Totalerweise Jenn; Freedom 4; Yerba Buena Con Click; Freedom 5; Timeline Promenade; George; Epilog George; Happy Kid; Hidden; Totalerweise Jenn (reprise) (55.25)
Reto Suhner (as, c-melody s, bss, f, theremin); René Mosele (bt, t, flh, moog, elec); Gregor Müller (p, kyb); Patrick Sommer (b, elb, pc); Pius Baschnagel (d, pc, glock). Winterthur, 7 & 8 November 2020.