Grand Pianoramax : SOUNDWAVE LP on Mental Groove Records

Update 02.2016: “Soundwave”, the fifth album of US/Swiss trio Grand Pianoramax will be released internationally on 29 January by the German Word and Sound label. Grand Pianormax will also be playing at Cully Jazz Festival on the 08.04.2016. Take this opportunity to read our review again!

photoaccueilsite2Reading over my notes taken while listening to the latest Grand Pianoramax LP just released on Mental Groove Records, the word ‘bouncy’ makes a frequent appearance. This may seem a trite concept to use when describing a band that over the years has become known as the Swiss heavyweight supergroup of post jazz, art rock and hip hop. But it does go to show that the aim of being “lighter, brighter, more fun” – to quote bandleader Leo Tardin – has been accomplished.

A fresh and spontaneous approach

Produced and mixed by ‘pugnacious’ drummer, Dom Burkhalter, the LP was recorded in his studio in an almost live situation with a fresh and spontaneous approach. “We wanted to keep it direct and imperfect somehow: upright piano with creaky pedals, old Fender Rhodes, analogue synths – a chilled attitude, nothing too perfect” explains Tardin. Following on from the Big Easy EP released last May, SOUNDSCAPE continues the “more accessible, less dark” theme that the band had already prepared us for. And why not? Nothing wrong with a bit of sunny Steely Dan-inspired melodies to help the foot-tapping along even when you’re an experimental bunch of musical giants.

There’s as much rule-breaking here as there is on the earlier ‘darker’ albums

But to define the LP simply in terms of fluffy adjectives is far from half the story. Yes, it’s the perfect soundtrack for a sun-roof-down drive along the south of France, but there are challenging twists and turns around every corner. Tempos come and go, unsuspecting chopped up beats hit you in the face, lyrics are sharp and cutting – in brief, there’s as much rule-breaking here as there is on the earlier ‘darker’ albums. Tardin is keen to emphasize:   “It’s actually easier to be dark and dramatic than it is to be simple but solid. This is not straight music, there’s experimentation happening on every track. ‘No Doubt’, for example, is essentially a disco track set to a very unusual 7/4 beat”.

Fans of his pretty, lyrical touch will not be disappointed

There’s a good ratio of vocal and instrumental tracks here, the latter giving space to more journeying on behalf of the keyboards. The old Fender Rhodes gets quite a bashing on ‘Tight Rope’ recalling a funky mid 70s Herbie Hancock/George Duke style that suits Tardin rather well and could do with further exploration in the future. Fans of his pretty, lyrical touch will not be disappointed, there are some gorgeous sweeping moments where being carried away on the wave of Tardin’s dexterous style is nothing other than a pleasure.

Charismatic experimentation and radio-friendly sparkle

But essentially, Grand Pianoramax are known for their foray into beats and hip hop which Black Cracker‘s edgy, poetic vocal style encapsulates so well. Totally enveloping and slightly less razor sharp than usual, his timbre is just perfectly suited to the jazzy, understated, choppy groove. Nothing in his lyrical content is ever over-done or insincere. The trio are famous for being a powerhouse live act, all bark AND bite, but on this album the slightly more laid back, crossover attitude is in no way a detracting dumbing down. On the contrary, warm and colorful like the cover, it’s an album full of charismatic experimentation and radio-friendly possibility.

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Band line up:

Leo Tardin – piano & keyboards
Black Cracker – vocals
Dom Burkhalter – drums

Forthcoming live gigs:

28th Nov, 2015: Moods, Zürich, CH
27th Dec, 2015: Bee Flat, Bern, CH

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