Theory of Everything
We covered Shijin’s self-titled debut in 2018 and perhaps you recall that this is not your usual jazz group but instead a inter-continental group that brings American and European jazz artists together in a fusion-jazz/improvisational format across eight original compositions. The quartet has musicians that have performed in a variety of idioms but all favor creative jazz. But Theory of Everything brings together some unusual, startling concepts. The pieces were first developed as duets, then completed by the other two musicians into a format rarely heard as both acoustic and electric sounds are comingled as are the concepts of composition and improvisation. You might even go a bit further, acknowledging that contemporary music and traditional jazz live together under their banner as well.
Shijin members are the new saxophonist Stephane Guillaume, and returning members keyboardist Malcolm Braff, bassist Laurent David, and drummer Stephane Galland. (more on each later). The bass playing is prominent and striking throughout as they open with “Mystery of a White Dwarf” with the saxophone in duet with David’s electric bass while Braff supports on acoustic piano before shifting to Rhodes midway through as Galland keeps it moving briskly. “Unexpected Discovery” finds Guillaume playing several saxes and flute as Braff and David envelop his lines in electronic effects initially and leave plenty of open space in the flute-driven second half. “Golden Age’” has a tricky syncopated rhythm accented by David’s rumbling bass as Guillaume skates about first on sax and then in combination with the flute as Braff works mostly on synth, seemingly having too much fun. Again, the electric bass is wonderfully intrusive. Around the five- and half-minute mark the piece dissolves into a freer jazz format with a quieter backdrop for Guillaume’s ranging expressions before David forcefully closes it out.
“Implosion,” a single, starts innocently with tinkering keys before morphing into a dense sound that recedes a bit as Braff plays Rhodes and synth while David’s bass bubbles loudly and Galland is all over his kit. Then, as we hear in some of the other pieces, Braff brings in the acoustic piano, as Guillaume soars above it all. “Time Travel,” also a single, has Guillaume playing sax and bass clarinet, one echoing the lines of the other as again we get an improvisational blend of acoustic and electronic backdrops before Guillaume reenters emphatically on his horn with one of his most fervent solos that leads to synth duet on the theme.
“Separating Circle” initially has the drummer, Galland, in duet with himself before the others join in, by now their signature mix of acoustic/electric support behind Guillaume’s sax and Braff’s dancing Rhodes lines. Like the others, the piece is divided in sections and it makes for engaged listening, wondering just when the changes will come as they inevitably do. The album closes out in funky fashion with two of its shorter selections. “You Are Here” begins in syncopated fusion fashion, featuring some fascinating duetting between keys and sax while the rhythm section stays locked into a funky beat while the closer “Curved Wrinkles” travels similar territory. You can clearly hear the individuality of these four musicians throughout, each remarkable, with David’s electric bass perhaps leaving the strongest lasting impression.
Okay, back to the musicians, each of which has an impressive solo career. Stephane Guillaume has won the prestigious Django Reinhardt Award for best French artist, for best French album, Windmills Chronicles, and has deep experience in both classical and jazz, playing in the Paris Jazz Big band and as a leader on five albums with smaller combos. Stephane Galland, from Belgium, took up drums at age three and after several years in classical music, began playing jazz at age 11. With his group AKA MOON he has performed worldwide and recorded over 20 CDs. He’s worked with artists from Africa India, Asia, Turkey, Europe and America and with these luminaries: Joe Zawinul, Joe Lovano, Toots Thielemans, Philip Catherine, Mark Turner and Robin Eubanks. Pianist and keyboardist Malcolm Braff was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, grew up in Dakar and Switzerland and began playing piano at age six. He’s had 20 recordings of his own, has played globally and been a band leader. Bassist Laurent David from Paris also began in classical music but with guitar. He switched to electric bass when taking up jazz, has played with several adventurous improvisers and now resides in New York where he is the creator and artistic director for this label, the non-profit Alter-Nativ.
The debut was impressive. This one is more involved and at an even higher level.
- Jim Hynes
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