Sha: Monbijou

Rating: 8.6/10
Rated as
: Album / Live
Album Status
: Genre Recommendation
Released: 2021
Recorded: 2020
Specific Genre: ECM Style Jazz, Minimal Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz
Undertones
: Avant-Garde Jazz, Post-Minimalism, Modern Classical
Label: Ronin Rhythm Records

1 Intro 2 Mon Bijou 3 MM

Echolocation for emotion

Did you ever hear someone enjoy the space around them? You can now. Recorded in the vast hollow interior of the box girder bridge Monbijou in Berne (CH), Sha’s solo debut – just him on bass clarinet, some sax work – lures you into a literal acoustic and social off-space.

The interior of a box girder has no uses. It has no function other than to create an exterior, supporting the structure of the bridge, carrying its traffic. The dimly, if at all lit 300-plus meter corridor of the Monbijou bridge is not a space open to the public, it isn’t even a room by the social meaning of that word. It is cold, it is dark and about the only noise in there is the faint booming of the motorized traffic washing over it. Sha’s decision to record there, gives away some clues what this kind of solo performance has to deliver in even a more familiar setting.

There are no co-musicians to react to here, there is no audience to the proceedings: Who lives under a bridge? In a way, the cavern echoes and the sound of the motor vehicles replace a band and audience on this record, or at least that musical sense of community achieved through exploring solitude. The structure of the piece, with long stretches of improvisation, gives Sha the option to incorporate the outer-world noises into the composition – that is, to use the bridge and its space as a partner for interplay. This becomes acutely evident almost seven minutes into the centre piece, where Sha floats on an ebbing drone, momentarily lost in an eastern-influenced melody – and a rumbling thunder (by a truck or some deep-sea leviathan) crashes loudly into a pause, perfectly timed, causing Sha to spiral into the first of two frantic parts, built around the beat of tone-hole slaps. This coincidence and its sound couldn’t be replicated in any planned way, and the effect is stunning.

Monbijou consists of several distinct vignettes, composed throughout the years and woven into a 30-minute suite. They are part of the same drift. Their coherence is partly due to the monumental setting, of course, but stems mostly from the spacious but clearly articulated sound Sha developed for the performance in the bridge.

This sound keeps the technical gadgetry to a minimum. Sha does use loops, but they mostly consist of a slight drone that only seems to emphasize the faint wave-crashing of the traffic above. A similar effect of tidal movement – ever moving, never changing – is created through the alternation of long, diligently structured phases of circular breathing with pensive, melodic parts, stretching out into the cavities of the bass clarinet and the surrounding tunnel.

While the former compositional elements can become almost hectic and flickering with their hypnotic arpeggios, sharp clicks and percussive slap tongue technique (especially spectacular in the third act of the ‘suite’), the latter create the emotional foundation of the album: whenever the soothing, meditative drone ebbs away, the invisible world above the bridge responds from a distance. While the very idea of a solo performance might evoke images of an internal monologue, Monbijou reaches outwards and is essentially a work about the hidden space around us, as defined by the sounds we make. Echolocation for emotion, if you will, beaming through a 300-meter instrument and its inhabitant.

PS. This text is basically the online „liner notes“ Sha uses on bandcamp etc. I conceived that text as a review from the beginning, even though it has a sort of PR-function, I guess. It’s just a really excellent live album, check it out.

See https://roninrhythmrecords.bandcamp.com/album/monbijou

Keith Jarrett: The Impulse! Story

Rating: 3.7/10
Rated as
: Anthology
Compilation Status
: Newbie Baiting
Released: 2006
Recorded: 1973–1976
Specific Genre: ECM Style Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz
Undertones
: Avant-Garde Jazz, Post-Bop, Bebop, Piano Jazz
Label: Impulse!

1 De Drums 2 The Rich (and the Poor) 3 Blue Streak 4 Treasure Island 5 Introduction and Yaqui Indian Folk Song 6 Victoria 7 Everything that Lives Laments 8 Konya 9 Bop-Be 10 Mushi Mushi 11 Silence

Good music, very questionable reason of existence as a compilation

Problems first: This compilation is called „The Impulse Story“, so the title suggests a sort of narrative for Jarrett’s American Quartet recordings for that label (1973–1976) – or it should, anyway. More complete compilations and box sets of Jarrett’s Impulse output had been issued before this (occupying both in name and completeness the „Impulse Years“ tag), and the question arises to what end there has to be a single disc compilation of that period. A plot? Sure. But there is no plot here, so let’s take a look.

Academically (and moronically) reconstructing the track choice, you‘ll be left with the knowledge that seven of the eleven tracks (make that ten actually – „Victoria“ wasn‘t issued on Jarrett‘s original Impulse albums – but it was first released on The Impulse Years: 1973–1974, so there is no point to view it as the selling point here) stem from just two of the eight albums while three albums aren’t represented at all. You‘ll also notice that the chronology hasn’t been touched (leading to the fact that the four tracks of Treasure Island come in a row). And you‘ll notice that the track choice as well as the liner notes were done by jazz expert Ashley Kahn. I was hoping to find an answer to the choices he made in his liner notes, and he only hints at it by mentioning that the last four albums for Impulse stem from roughly the same sessions Jarrett did in 1975/76. As there is no other information directly relating to the track choice, we’re left with a bunch of questions (why is it called story? Why such a stress on Treasure Island? Why a single disc compilation about a guy whose work has been documented excellently and comprehensively, and whose specialty were 20-minute-suites?), we‘re left to construct a) the scheme that this was called story to imply a personal and artistical ‚development‘ of Jarrett‘s Impulse years and b) the suspicion that the last four albums didn’t contribute so well to represent that arc (as they were part of temporarily close sessions as opposed to long evolution processes). Suspicion also arises this is a cash-in to lure in newbies. Who needs this?

Call me picky, but I simply expect better from the normally unerring Impulse!-label.

Economics aside, let’s take a look at the material. Like the albums it’s taken from, it is quite alright to excellent, a particular stand-out is the opener „De Drums“, with its swinging, swirling, breezy and moving pattern, akin to cape jazz, followed by some shorter tunes that all share the same airy and weightless atmosphere – an overall summer feeling permeates this. Things get a bit edgier in the last third, when the group shifted its sound away from the acoustic improvs from the beginning, and went for a less free-flowing, harder bopping approach once again (very sneaky by calling that last album Bop-Be). I prefer to listen to the first half, excellent for mornings and sunny afternoons, very laid-back music. Maybe that was the point, to lounge-ify Jarrett‘s Impulse output, possibly cross-financed by Starbucks. A thin plot: Good music, very questionable reason of existence as a compilation. As I said, I can’t imagine anyone seriously interested in this who wouldn’t want the albums in the first place.

1: Fort Yawuh (1973)
2–5: Treasure Island (1974)
6: from the Backhand (1975) sessions, but first released on The Impulse Years: 1973–1974 (1997)
7: Mysteries (1976)
8: Byablue (1977)
9–11: Bop-Be (1977)