Reviews in this issue:
- Überfall – So Uferios Im Abendwind
- Jean Chaine And His Ulterior Lux – The Dancing Man
- Trank Zappa Grappa In Varese? – More Light
- Spaltklang – En Suite
- Finnegans Wake – The Bird And The Sky Above
Überfall – So Uferios Im Abendwind
Tracklist: Treibsand (4:23), Nah Und Fern (9:06), Positives Lied (3:47), Happiness (4:21), Kulturbetrieb (3:57), So Froh (4:22), Sprachios (6:28), Uferios (5:26), 24 (4:16), Eiszeit (6:41), Oh Mensch (5:01), Alles Klar (3:59), Alles im Griff (3:02), Rock (5:09), Abendwind (3:19)
Markus Stauss (saxes, additional keyboards & extras), Pit Kayser (keyboard and vocals), Andi Muckenhirn (drums and percussions) featuring guests Jean Chaine (electric bass), Caroline Fahrni (violin), Andre Muller (alto sax, baritone sax).
Having now been writing for DPRP for just over 12 months, and this being my one hundredth CD review, (although it will be 104+ by the time this review is complete), I thought it would be nice to mark the occasion with something just slightly different, different in a positive way. So here goes, I decided to review the Markus Stauss project CDs, five in total, which offer a cross section of his recording career starting with the 1994 Überfall compilation So Uferios Im Abendwind through to 2010’s Finnegan’s Wake The Bird And The Sky Above. Never being one to take the easy route, never will, too boring. When I saw these titles I rubbed my hands grabbed the bull by the horns and ran.
So just who is Markus Stauss? He is a musician who was born in 1954 in Basle, by all accounts from reading his biography. He comes across as being somewhat eccentric. Putting that to one side, he is also a damn fine musician, where he purports to be self taught in hard rock, free form jazz, jazz rock and medieval music amongst others, so that covers most of the bases then, graduating and becoming a music teacher and a lecturer in free form jazz and rock. He seems to be at home when the music is more challenging than when taking your average approach, developing different playing concepts.
Überfall had recorded four albums, before they disbanded, where Stauss went on to record as a solo artist. This album is a compilation of those albums, a balance of their musical writing skills, having both instrumental passages and vocal presentations, making it all a very good gateway into discovering what the band was all about. The album moves in jazz fusion circles with the emphasis being on jazz, encapsulating and element of experimentation, but not drifting into avant-garde. The band has included vocals on some of the tracks presented here on this compilation, but they are sparse to say the least giving those pieces a somewhat pop flavour. In saying that, the music presented here is so much more, to be quite honest it is intrinsically very cleverly constructed which is what I like so much about So Uferios Im Abendwind and the band. I almost feel like I have missed out on something rather special.
Überfall for me have been heavily influenced by the likes of Zappa and the R.I.O scene, (although slightly more melodic in approach), I say this for two reasons, the first being that is more in line with their use of Stauss and Muller’s saxophones and secondly the music itself is rather highly imaginative, unconventional and at times rather amusing making diversity the order of the day. It is difficult to pick out the outstanding tracks as they all offer their own uniqueness with their ubiquitous tones really captivating the listeners ear and imagination. This really is the way to discover this fantastic band and an excellent introduction into the mind of Markus Stauss, which I believe will have you going out on a treasure hunt to discover his works. To say that some of these tracks were released as early as 1986, it is surprising that they sound fresh and relevant today; such is the quality of these tracks which makes this a highly enjoyable and indeed a rewarding listen.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Jean Chaine And His Ulterior Lux – The Dancing Man
Tracklist: Waste Of Time (5:36), Slant Lines (3:46), Bloodriffs (6:11), Outputblues (9:36), K1 (7:14), Mental In A Peachcan (8:15), Look For You Own Way (6:01), Ghosts (3:38), A90 (10:52), K1, The Ballade (6:00)
The first thing that you notice about Jean Chaine And His Ulterior Lux album The Dancing Man is the intricate and rather bizarre artwork that will have you intently looking at it for quite some time whilst you listen to the album. This time we see Stauss participating in another rather interesting trio, which is lead by bassist Jean Chaine who also contributes vocals. As ever Markus Stauss contributes saxes whilst Dimthingshine fills the last slots with his drum work and vocals.
As a bass player Chaine really calls to mind Stu Hamm, Les Claypool and Mark King when he is working those slap lines, which can be heard best on the opening tracks Waste Of Time and Slant Lines. This really is a bass player’s album, which comes as no surprise. Stauss who presents a sax tone that most people would kill for is aligned with Dimthingshine’s outstanding and rather intricate drum patterns, which does fill a pivotal role in the whole proceedings. What makes this whole experience intense is that was recorded live with no overdubs in 1980. The whole album is based upon the intricacies of each musician plying their well trained ears in the field of jazz fusion incorporating elements of avant-garde that works well, never overstepping the mark, which to some degree is the same ethos as Überfall. Outputblues is probably the instrumental that really sums up Jean Chaine’s vision of what he was trying to create. K1 works more on the edge of individualism, the realms of avant-garde as it twists and turns, but the semblance of the whole piece is realised within this interaction, being at one with itself. The vocalisations that have been included aren’t the best, but when music this good is presented to you, that idea kind of pails into insignificance. Mental In A Peachcan offers its repeating hypnotic lines which again delivers the listener a soundstage that is challenging, honest but never boring. When you hear the initial opening track Waste Of Time you will be rubbing your hands; this will be the case for Mental In A Peachcan. It is a track that just oozes retro sax soirées of yesteryear. Look For You Own Way may offer a reduction in notation, but in doing so it is allowed to gravitate more to the atmospherics of the music. We aren’t talking silk and smooth, more classy and intriguing really allowing Stauss to be opulent with his approach, the sax sounding as if it is a part of his very existence. The comedic and rich personality that is Ghosts, the shortest piece on the album, is another platform for Stauss’ handy work on the sax which doesn’t surpass the accompaniment of both Chaine and Dimthingshine as they keep him in check, just about. A90 is the oddball of the pack as it nonchalantly worms its jazzy interactions into your head, showcasing the band at their best, confirming that they are more than adept at working their precise magic over the whole affair, whereas K1, the Ballade closes the album with beauty, dexterity and interesting phrasings.
The whole production of the album is absolutely stunning, having no dark moments where you are confused by the intricacies of each individual instrument as they work together creating the bigger picture, no battling of ego’s, no real rules of engagement, just a trio who want to create stunning music, which is something that they have managed to do, whether they are sounding individualistic or moving in those highly influential Zappa tones. Interesting stuff indeed!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Trank Zappa Grappa In Varese? – More Light
Tracklist: Opening With Objects (7:43), Perpetuum (7:52), OG (12:03), More Memories (8:50), Little Fragment (5:21), Surinam (11:35), For Jean (6:09), Kater Carlo (7:43), Alone At Lost And Found (2:18)
Moving swiftly along three years we have Markus Stauss (tenor and soprano sax) working alongside another bunch of highly talented musicians consisting of Michel Delville (guitars, guitar synth and electronics), Damien Campion (electric and double bass) and Laurent Delchambre (drums, percussions and electronics).
At a quick glance of the band’s name Trank Zappa Grappa In Varese, you just know exactly what you are going to get and More Light more than delivers, especially if you enjoy encountering dissonant avant-garde passages mixed in with jazz and at times non melodic musical prose. The investigation and investment of your time here is going to be well rewarded.
The album was recorded live and as a whole is more than a nod and a wink towards both Zappa and Varese’s intelligent, innovative and magnificent musical prowess. Just playing with the words Zappa and Varese you know that the semblance of the music is going to be both dynamic challenging and stunning, something that Stauss has a knack of managing to get involved with. We are talking Hot Rats era Zappa mixed in with the dynamic approach of say The Yellow Shark. To be honest you can hear many Zappa references weaved through the album as a whole.
The tempos and rhythms displayed can at times be wild, idiosyncratic, characterising each individual input, peculiar yet enchanting in the same breath. The album is almost split into two halves, the first being an excursion that can at time be cacophonous emphasising the non melodic nature which at times sounds like this is more about an individual’s contribution, whereas the second half of the album has the musicians sounding more like a cohesive band. Once you scrape under the surface, you will realise that this has all been very cleverly put together and is really all about everybody’s participation.
Free form jazz is not everyone’s idea of fun and at times can be biting on an individual’s ear, sometimes the band insist on adding a rock base too, which does break it down somewhat; one thing that is for sure though, is that these guys are at the top of their game here. Like Varese’s music Trank Zappa Grappa In Varese they like to emphasize the timbre and meter of the music, working with the idea of organised sounds, grouping different timbres and meters together, diverting the energy, really defining the music.
The narrative of tracks like OG or Surinam allows the band time to stamp their own individual authority, each taking a lead masterfully as the pieces build which is what gives the band its individuality. OG walks the fine line of chaos where as Surinam is a more rounded article, more mature having a better semblance, having more order, a more outward appearance. Whereas the likes of Kater Carlo has a more straight forward rock appeal, but still being idiosyncratic in its approach, as is Perpetuum, being somewhat more commercial, well as commercial as this bands gets with their presentations. Even the album closer Alone At Lost And Found a platform to display Delville’s effects laden guitar work just oozes class, which admirably sounds like how Frank would have constructed one of his guitar solos. Very powerful indeed!
As a side band for the musicians involved and having only released I believe two albums to date, these for me are another band to investigate. I wonder what greatness could have been created if this had of been a full time project? Again this is an album for any discerning fans of Zappa, Zorn, R.I.O and Varese for that matter.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Spaltklang – En Suite
Tracklist: Amuse-Bouche (1:10), Von Anbeginn (13:39), Heartbeat (5:08), En Suite (11:56), Ideen (7:48), Evocazione (9:13), Open Direction (5:50), Molto Lento (2:11)
Another day, another dollar, another band, another line up. If nothing else Markus Stauss knows how to ply his trade with differing musicians, delivering the goods. For all intense and purpose Spaltklang’s En Suite is an album that more than showcases its technical talent, not that the previous releases don’t. Spaltklang were a Swiss band that existed between the 80’s and early 90’s having recorded for albums. A band that consisted of Markus Stauss (tenor and soprano sax), Olivier Vogt (viola), Stephon Brunner (bass) and Remy Strouli (drums and keyboards).
The band put their selves in the unusual position which can only be described as chamber rock, touching as ever on elements of avant-garde, R.I.O, free improve, jazz incorporating elements of fusion and rock. The music itself is very persuasive in its approach, music constructed with the use of instruments from differing families that sit and work well together. Stauss’ saxophone tones may sound delicate in places, the complexity of the passages more than make up for this; they are colourful, exquisite in their attention to detail, one minute subtle and calm the next faster paced, exciting and interesting.
Make no mistake here the main leaders musically are the saxes and viola, whilst the bass and drums participating are no less important, as they accurately hold the whole musical abstract together, offering nuance, colour and detail which can be heard especially in the pieces En Suite and Von Anbeginn, instrumentals that offer fascinating interplay, great texture, confirming how adept and complex this music really is. Even when the band are creating their shorter pieces the excitement is no less, in fact atmospherically in some ways they are more intense, having less time to create diverse soundscapes such as the longer segments. Ideen more than highlights this with its slow paced start that builds in speed and complexity, being bold and beautiful in its presentation, Brunner’s bass and Strouli’s drums are both excellent and precise in their contributions, with Stauss’ sax being the real highlight of the piece, which is a theme throughout.
The beauty of the music created here is that it hasn’t tried to emulated anyone, but create a diverse polyrhythmic musical forum that oscillates its emotions never revisiting the same theme or approach twice, an intelligent use of instrumental and experimental musical lyricism, which is the whole ethos of this musical approach in general, not recognising boundaries but creating its own rule book and foundations. The music here is not as accessible as the previous releases Trank Zappa Grappa In Varese, The Dancing Man or Überfall but the challenge is worth taking.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Finnegans Wake – The Bird And The Sky Above
Tracklist: The Bird And The Sky Above: Part 1 ~ Still Dreaming (5:42), Part 2 ~ First Flight (9:31), Part 3 ~ Walking On The Ground (2:18), Part 4 ~ Stealing On The Picnic Table (7:43), Part 5 ~ Dark Clouds (13:17), Part 6 ~ Infinite Background (5:52)
Of the five albums reviewed here that involves Markus Stauss Finnegans Wake The Bird And The Sky Above, (this their sixth album), is probably the most brave and adventurous one, being influenced by such luminaries as Henry Cow, VDGG, Univers Zero and to some degree Caravan, but being somewhat discordant in its approach. The sound can sound sparse, desolate and cold as the band create their musical excursions, a six part musical suite each representing various stages of discovery.
Stauss only contributes to the second half of the album, but this doesn’t stop Henry Krutzen manipulating a swathe of wind instruments, balancing them out with the addition of piano, bass and drums. Under this guise the music presented here is more intimate, almost a conversation of pieces offering the music a level of maturity which is challenging to say the least at times, coming across as a soundtrack. The music doesn’t flow naturally; it is discordant as is Spaltklang’s En Suite, only more so, it is as if they are more statements, being darker and more atmospheric in approach.
The meter and timber is highly unusual, the moods changing with tone and pace, which will take sometime to get use to, we are talking avant-garde, elements of freeform jazz and experimental passage work, precise interjections that punctuate, deliberately highlighting the scene, with semblance not in the art form of noise, although some may see it that way. There is no doubt that Krutzen’s vision has been accomplished, little vignettes, all decorative in design. Every single note presented and played transmits the essences of the concept, the madness, confusion, innocence and beauty, explorations of a new world.
Finnegans Wake’s The Bird And The Sky Above sets out on its journey asking the listener to participate and to trust their natural instinct, allowing the listener an opportunity to build their own pictures, which does take some work. The musical story line of the suite has diversity which a lot of people may struggle with, challenging, complex, almost archaic in some places, which does at times leave you questioning your sanity. Again the longer pieces presented Part 2 ~ First Flight, Part 4 ~ Stealing On The Picnic Table and the thirteen minute plus Part 5 ~ Dark Clouds carries off the approach more successfully than the shorter pieces as they are given time to breathe and express themselves more. There are some stunning beautiful sedate interactions slotted in throughout the album, but I personally don’t believe that would be enough for the casual listener to venture down this path for. That isn’t to say that anything presented here doesn’t have musical merit, it’s just that it has been created for the more believing and adventurous out there.
Although Stauss contributes to only half of the recording s on this album, the other musicians involved are Henry Krutzen (sax, piano and percussions), Alexandre Johnson (flute), Kizambe (percussions), Darlan Marley (drums), Marcillio Onofre (piano) and Antonio de Padua (trumpets), he does make a worthwhile contribution, his style and approach works in unison with the rest of the band complementing the bands musical references. It would have been nice to hear Stauss contributing more to the album, but that’s another story.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10