Denis Gäbel: The Good Spirits, Part 2

German saxophonist brings to mind the storytelling quality of early Wayne Shorter and the tenderness of Stan Getz while remaining distinctive


Rated by Dave Liebman, among others, German saxophonist Gäbel has a big, full and attractive sound with a supple rhythmic and harmonic imagination to match. He has flourished in both big band and small group contexts and while he hasn’t released many albums, those he has put out have evinced both diversity and imagination, drawing critical approval.

From Keep Rollin’ (2007) and Neon Sounds (2013) to the 2017 The Good Spirits and the 2020 The Mingus Sessions, reviewers have referenced Stan Getz and Sonny Rollins as well as John Coltrane and Michael Brecker in attempts to characterise the technical and emotional aspects of Gäbel’s art.

Listening to a good deal of the current release, which keeps that superb drummer Clarence Penn from the initial Good Spirits session but brings in the excellent Sebastian Sternal (p) and Reuben Rogers (b) for (the equally fine) Kevin Kayes (p) and Scott Colley (b), I thought in good part of the oblique “story telling” intelligence of Wayne Shorter in his Blue Note days. Hear View, One and Mood (the last also brings Getz to mind, as does the tender and ruminative Old Friend).

As one might infer from its title, there’s more than a touch of side-skipping Monk to Light Blue while the delicious, relaxed groove of Humble, which sparks a sustained pizzicato outing from Rogers, is deep in archetypal jazz territory of many an age and artist: so also the driving Loose Ends.

To set Gäbel in comparative context is not to speak of any simplistic matter of emulation or pastiche. All the literate and well-wrought material here is his: first turned on to jazz by a German TV special on Art Blakey which he caught as a (very) young teenager, Gäbel’s favourite album remains Mingus’s Blues And Roots. He has long been set on developing his own take both out of and upon the ever-evolving poetics of jazz and, stimulated by especially notable group interaction, he’s in fine fettle here.

View; One; Light Blue; Confident; Mood; Humble; Loose Ends; Old Friend (52.05)
Gäbel (ts); Sebastian Sternal (p); Reuben Rogers (b); Clarence Penn (d). Cologne, December 2021.
Mons Records NR 874780