Lukas Traxel: One-Eyed Daruma

Swiss bassist leads a loose-limbed trio with saxophone and drums that builds on the example of 1960s free jazz


The warm, Haden-esque tones of Swiss bassist Lukas Traxel (b. 1993) have featured in the groups of Kurt Rosenwinkel, Marie Krüttli and Nils Wogram amongst others. This freewheeling trio with saxophonist Otis Sandsjö (Koma Saxo, Y-Otis) and drummer Moritz Baumgärtner (Melt Trio) is his debut as leader, and it’s an album that positively bristles with excitement.

For those wondering about the title, the daruma is a brightly painted and disconcertingly eyeless Japanese doll steeped in Buddhist symbolism. On making a wish its owner will paint the doll’s left eye, the second eye being painted when the wish is fulfilled. In this context Traxel’s conceit describes both the unfulfilled potential of his relationship with his late father, and the extent to which he sees his compositions as incomplete until they are realised in the heat of performance.

Each member of the trio is part of a generation for whom the lessons of 60s free jazz are a natural stepping-off point. Traxel’s eight compositions provide clearly defined but relatively open structures to explore, and using an irresistible combination of technical virtuosity and emotional literacy the trio create a fluid music which ebbs and flows with a natural ease.

First Timer is an exemplar of spacious balladry, Sandsjö colouring his wistful lines with softly blown overtones and false fingerings. Empty Seat, Transience and the beguiling title track tap into a similarly spiritual vein, while the shapeshifting menace of Nasty People releases any pent-up aggressions. Sandsjö dabbles with EFX during the skittish free-bop of Die Wahrscheinlichkeit (“probability”), and elsewhere The Call and Origami by turns betray the influence of William Parker’s groove-oriented pieces and Petter Eldh’s ingenious rhythmic disassemblies.

As debut albums go One-Eyed Daruma is about as strong as they come, offering fresh perspectives on a classic old format.

First Timer; The Call; Die Wahrscheinlichkeit; Empty Seat; Origami; Nasty People; Transience; One-Eyed Daruma (43.11)
Traxel (b) with Otis Sandsjö (ts); Moritz Baumgärtner (d). Powerplay Studios, Zurich, no date.
We Jazz Records WJ LP/CD 45