The New York City Jazz Record review by John Sharpe

Jim Black – Somatic (Winter & Winter)
Achim Kaufmann – Verivyr (Pirouet)
Carlos Bica & Azul – Things About (Clean Feed)
Walter Beltrami – Paroxysmal Postural Vertigo (Auand)
Drummer Jim Black is in constant action on both sidesof the Atlantic. Renowned for his assertive but often skewed rhythmic foundation, Black challenges assumptions on these four discs. Black’s new trio, debuting on Somatic, might surprise those familiar with his recent history, in that it forsakes electricity for his swinging take on the piano tradition. Black’s all original program retains his simple understated melodies, which here launch more lyrical jazzy improvisations. It sounds as if the threesome, featuring Austrian wunderkind Elias Stemeseder and in-demand bassist Thomas Morgan, has been together for years due to their accomplished and sensitive interactions. Black himself is supportive and undemonstrative – he doesn’t take a solo in the whole set, but rather his off-kilter rhythms and odd breaks form just one of three equally-voiced parts. Morgan is authoritative, whether delivering pulse orcommentary, all in a full rounded tone. Stemeseder proves a promising talent, extending from the themes, building tension through repetition. It’s telling though that the fragmented “Protection”, the standout track, adds a touch more bite to the proceedings.

Verivyr, the sophomore outing from the German pianist Achim Kaufmann’s trio, features Black in the same setting but with rather more edge. They signal their intent straight from the git-go, unconventional textures to the fore: Kaufmann rubbing the piano strings for an eerie oscillation surrounded by indeterminate percussive noises. Black’s lurchingbeats rejoice in his patented quirky combination of remarkable timbres and accents, though still largely restrained in terms of power. With Valdi Kolli handling bass duties, together they indulge in busy three-way conversations that diverge and reunite around the pianist’s knotty themes, often barely hinting at meter, tune or lead instrument in a probing, questioning group ethos that could be a primer for the modern piano trio. Each track boasts unexpected twists, best exemplified by the episodic “Berlin No Lights”. Black is at his most insistent on the awry funk of “LeQuadrimoteur” over which Kaufmann pontificates in abstract but sparkling starbursts of notes.

Black holds down the drum stool on Things About, the fourth release from the longstanding trio Azul, anassured vehicle for responsive interplay around Portuguese bassist Carlos Bica’s lovely tunes. Black epitomizes delicacy and judiciousness, largely keeping time on brushes for most of the session, with just intimations of his latent potential in his idiosyncratic fills and bustling rattles. Bica projects a deeply enveloping sound and gives every note just the right amount of weight, as heard in his tasteful solos on the relaxed title track and the mournfully nagging “Cancao Vazia”. Frank Möbus’ electric guitar never overpowers, as he takes a string of graceful chiming solos in a rich warm singing tone with horn-like single-note lines. Separated from schmaltz by the intelligence of the guitar lines and the delicate poise of the bass and drums, an elegant simplicity pervades the set.

However on Italian guitarist Walter Beltrami’s Paroxysmal Postural Vertigo, Black is in his element, belaying all manner of sources in an impudent clatter. Based around aurally portraying the effects of vertigo, which suddenly afflicted Beltrami out of the blue, the guitarist successfully hints at the disjuncts and instability such a condition imposes through ten tight, fast-changing, sometimes portentous, sometimes catchy arrangements. There’s no grandstanding and the allstar cast is readily subservient to Beltrami’stunes. Vincent Courtois’ cello wails like an additional horn alongside Francesco Bearzatti’s energetic tenor saxophone and clarinet while Stomu Takeishi’s pliant rubbery electric bass meshes well with Black to create a swirling maelstrom on “Lilienthal”. With his imaginative use of rock idioms, the leader has created an exciting set packed with visceral thrills.

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