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.


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

Kaos Protokoll, punk-jazz provocators

Photo by Brigitte Fässler

Photo by Brigitte Fässler

Swiss trio, Kaos Protocoll are fond of sweeping statements: « Punk-jazz provocators », « No concept as concept », « No track ends as it begins » – these are just some of their cheeky mantras aimed at focussing your listening toward the left-field attitude they strive to cultivate. Freshly released on the Prolog Music label, Questclamationmarks is their second LP which the band describe as being more mature, complex and mysterious than its previous little brother, largely inspired by a recent tour across Eastern Europe and Russia during which they excelled in their live performances, honing their various radical free-jazz, funk and electronic influences.


« Rough in attitude but very well structured »

The driving wheel behind this LP is British pianist and composer, Django Bates, a familiar name on the Swiss German jazz scene since his appointment as Professor of Jazz at HKB school in Bern. His role as producer came about after stumbling across the band during a live gig. Vague inflections of Loose Tubes-inspired mayhem sit well next to the chaotic, busy style that has become the band’s trademark, especially appreciated in live situ. But Prof Bates’ presence is gratefully felt here in the clarity of composition, arrangement and production, resulting in a body of work that is « rough in attitude but very well structured » to quote bass player Benedikt Wieland. The beast has not been totally tamed, just steered in a direction where the mish-mash of influences and barrage of sound have been refined, organised and, to some degree, conceptualized. As a result, it’s more of an unpredictable but elegant carousel ride, rather than a dirty punk collision course.

Enthusiastic, clean and fresh

A good case in point is the track « Ein Stück zum Mitsingen » – lots going on here: crazy bebop singing melodies, pounding wall of sound beats, furious sax à la Greg Osby, all chunky and funky with a definite giggle going on, wrapped up in a perfect package and just the right duration for the laugh to tickle. The sound is enthusiastic, clean and fresh. “Maybe you” is equally playful with its hide and seek game of tempo and style. Unusual, but not unsuitable German rap makes an appearance in “Pathos Ratlos featuring Baze”, a place where wobbly jazz synths and broken beat melodies suit the grave but not too serious poetic narrative. Winding down the ride is the melodica-friendly “Wiegelied”, a warm and soothing lullaby ending their enigmatic, confident journey.

A mercurial piece inspired by their concert in the secret Russian city

A short film has just been released to accompany “In the Secret City”, a mercurial piece inspired by their concert in the secret Russian city, K26. Benedikt Weiland explains: “A man runs through the secret city at night. He sees scenes that are independent of each other, very abstract and without clear identification. For example, a woman holding a flowerpot while a man is floating in the air! A horse, led by a non-recognizable prancing creature, a corpulent elderly man walks out of his house carrying a briefcase. Just as the song unravels different moods, so do the images which feature different worlds that somehow have a relationship and are linked together by the runner. The images are also a little bit chaotic, abstract and analogous to our sound!”




Benedikt Wieland (bass, FX)

Marc Stucki (sax, melodica, FX)

Flo Reichle (drums, electronics)



Forthcoming live dates:

19/11/15 – Le Singe, Biel (CH)

20/11/15 – Jazzclub, Gera (DE)

21/11/15 – Cuba, Münster, (DE)

23/11/15 – Jazzclub, Abensberg, (DE)

24/11/15 – Waldsee, Freiburg, (DE)

27/11/15 – Moods, Zurich (CH)

28/11/15 – Jazzclub, Erfurt, (DE)

29/11/15 – Glashaus, Bayreuth, (DE)

30/11/15 – Schon Schön, Mainz, (DE)


Jürg Frey at hcmf

Jurg Frey2015An advocate of silence as sound

Jürg Frey allows musical notes to appear on his blank sheet in a playful way, ‘Not because I have something in my mind…but I like to draw dots and strings. And through this process, the impression of what this piece could be, starts to come into the foreground.’ From there he begins a dialogue with the music; it’s a mindful approach, apparent in his work. Part of the ’90s Wandelweiser group, Frey has been an advocate of silence as sound; the contrails of which are still present in his slow-moving pieces or long, solitary notes.

‘We feel the ‘handwriting’ of Graham McKenzie’

He is being truly celebrated at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf) this November with the UK premier of String Quartet No.3 played by Quatuor Bozzini and world premier of Accurate Placement with double bassist, Dominic Lash, amongst other work. This highly respected event is nearly 40 years old and as Frey describes it, ‘We feel the ‘handwriting’ of Graham McKenzie,’ the innovative festival director who added improvisation and electronica to the contemporary classical menu. This year even features an interdisciplinary piece with Graham Massey of 808 State and visual artists.

Mavericks striving for the boldest version of their music

Originally a clarinetist, Jürg was brought up in the ’50s with his dad playing violin in an amateur orchestra and sax in a jazz combo – a rarity then – as Frey says, ‘We played Mozart and Benny Goodman.’ As a composer he found his form and took inspiration from the ‘individualists’ that Switzerland is so good at producing. It’s also what drew me to Swiss artists: mavericks striving for the boldest version of their music, unrestrained by conventionality or the mainstream.

Their paint strokes affected the rhythm of his pulse

This is hard, hard work though, and risky. And for Jürg there are traps in his highly reduced music; how can it be so minimised yet still breathing? ‘The danger is that you have something that is death…10 minutes of music and 20 minutes of death material!’ It was the abstract painting of Agnes Martin that showed there was a way. ‘It is flat on the wall, but floats in space, and fills up the whole space,’ is Frey’s magical description of Martin’s artwork, and as he spoke of her and the still life painter, Giorgio Morandi, I sensed how they had changed him, and it is this changed person who composes. As if their paint strokes affected the rhythm of his pulse.

JurgFrey_CirclesandLandscapesListening to the new album, Circles and Landscapes (out on Another Timbre), it has the solo pianist Philip Thomas press the keys with such resonating deliberation I felt I was at the piano with him. There is not only vibrant life in this music, but maturity. Frey’s journey continues, he is not ‘there’ yet, but he is beyond the need to prove something, or make a point. His music just is.

Jürg Frey at hcmf
22 Nov: Quatuor Bozzini
24 Nov: Konus Quartett
27 Nov: Ensemble Grizzana
27 Nov: Philip Thomas

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