Florian Arbenz: Conversation #8 – Ablaze

The Swiss drummer's latest is inspired by New Orleans jazz but aside from the use of brass bass diverges quite a bit


If you’re at all familiar with any of the previous seven instalments in this series, you’ll know that Florian Arbenz (VEIN) invariably finds his own perspectives on “the tradition”. Conversation #8 is no exception, the Swiss drummer-composer this time taking inspiration from hazy childhood memories of the early New Orleans jazz so beloved by his parents.

A crucial ingredient in the mix is British tuba maestro Oren Marshall. Well known for his range of extended techniques, hearing him lock in to Arbenz’s stinging grooves is something of a revelation. VEIN bandmate and brother Michael Arbenz plays piano on roughly half of the tracks, while Cuban trumpeter Jorge Vistel’s piquant post-Hubbard stylings bring an air of unpredictability and excitement. Rounding out the ensemble is the evergreen Wolfgang Puschnig, co-founder of the Vienna Art Orchestra and himself an accomplished interpreter of jazz history. 

The propulsive shuffle-beat of Arbenz’s Catch Me If You Can immediately sets the scene, and after Puschnig’s typically sinewy outing Marshall’s vocalised rhythmic exchanges with Arbenz bring an unexpected nod to Indian konnakol traditions. Marshall’s throaty multiphonics tee-up Puschnig’s free-flowing Rivulets, and once again everybody blows hard. Vistel’s The Mirror turns up the heat even higher, the trumpeter exchanging furious choruses with Puschnig as Arbenz’s rhythmic maelstrom intensifies.

Yet despite its title Ablaze is not without its cooler moments. The introspective chamber jazz of Choral brings the first opportunity to hear Michael Arbenz’s piano, and along with gossamer tone poem Wild Flower it is beautifully poetic. Eddie Harris’s Freedom Jazz Dance has been ever-present across the series and is by now a barometer piece. On this version Arbenz’s busy polyrhythmic chatter is punctuated by a sequence of astringent solos. Apart from being a whole lot of fun, it is arguably his most audacious reading of Harris’s old warhorse to date.

Catch Me If You Can; Rivulets; Choral; The Mirror; Freedom Jazz Dance; Wild Flower; Insight Straight (44.14)
Arbenz (d) with Jorge Vistel (t); Wolfgang Puschnig (as); Michael Arbenz (p); Oren Marshall (tu). Hammerstudios, Basel, 3 April 2022.
Hammer Records CD KIM221499