Thursday, September 27, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
An accomplished set of original material with the quartet displaying a high standard of musicianship throughout.
Traeben is an international quartet featuring a mix of Danish and Dutch musicians. “Push”, which will be officially released on October 1st 2012 is the group’s second album, a follow up to their successful début “Nordic Project” (2008), a set that saw the group updating a collection of Danish and Swedish folk songs. The Danish contingent consists of guitarist Jens Larsen and saxophonist Soren Ballegaard with bassist Olaf Meijer and new drummer Haye Jellema (he replaces Thorsten Grau) making up an all Dutch rhythm section. Their focus is now entirely on original material and although Larsen does the bulk of the composing Traeben are very much a band - one with its origins at the Royal Conservatoire in Den Haag where Larsen and Meijer both studied.
Traeben like to describe their music as “modern song based jazz” and their sound embraces both the energy and immediacy of rock and the intricacy and sophistication of jazz. With the distinctive front line of guitar and saxophone the group may remind British listeners of Partisans, the brilliant band co-led by saxophonist Julian Siegel and guitarist Phil Robson. Traeben are perhaps less explosive than their British counterparts but there’s still plenty of energy and sophistication about opener “Top Dog” which features lengthy but absorbing solos from both Larsen and Ballegaard plus sophisticated and intricate rhythmic interplay between Meijer and Jellema. The piece finishes with a powerful feature for the drummer and overall is a good demonstration of the band’s strengths. Traeben are a regular working unit, a fact emphasised by the tightness and assurance of their playing.
The rubato ballad “Try To Remember” demonstrates the gentler side of the group. There’s a genuine yearning quality to the solos of Larsen and Ballegaard, at one point the saxophonist plays highly affecting solo tenor. Meijer’s deeply resonant bass and Jellema’s neatly detailed drum work forms the perfect accompaniment.
“God Makes Backups” marks a return to the group’s more robust style and is driven by Meijer’s muscular bass playing. The melody is like an updated hard bop tune and is the jumping off point for a powerful solo from Ballegaard followed by a cooler statement from Larsen on guitar. Jellema also features prominently with some spirited and inventive drum work.
The pattern of alternating ballads with more up tempo numbers is continued with “Can You” which features warm, breathy tenor and an impressively melodic and lyrical bass solo from Meijer. Larsen’s elegant solo matches the mood and Jellema’s gently propulsive brush work is appropriately sympathetic.
“Catatraffic” is more animated but retains the high melodic content. The song like construction offers good contrast between the soulful tenor of Ballegaard and the more restrained approach of Larsen.
The softly brooding “All It Needs” offers long sax melody lines, quietly colourful drumming and a gentle but exploratory guitar solo. There’s also another example of Meijer’s lyrical and melodic qualities as a double bass soloist.
“We’ll Let You Know” is the tune that exhibits the most obvious rock influence. Chunky riffs alternate with softer, more obviously jazzy interludes. Larsen delivers his most powerful playing of the set including some crunching power chords and Ballegaard’s playing is often similarly impassioned.
The charming “Simple Things” features one of Larsen’s most hummable melodies and includes beautiful solos from Meijer, Larsen and Ballegaard.
Ballegaard’s contribution with the pen is “Nothing Or Nothing At All”, an odd meter groover that includes lively solos from the composer on gruff, muscular tenor and Larsen on guitar.
The album concludes with the of Larsen’s “Mi Hijo” which introduces a gentle funk element to the proceedings. Ballegaard and Larsen trade fluent and expansive solos before the piece culminates in a feature for the consistently excellent Jellema.
“Push” is an accomplished set of original material with the quartet displaying a high standard of musicianship throughout. That said the constant alternating of loud/soft pieces does threaten to become a bit of a cliché and not all of the themes could be said to be truly memorable despite the song like construction of many of the pieces. Nonetheless “Push” exhibits considerable promise and there is much to enjoy here -Traeben’s future development will be watched with interest. One suspects that many of these tunes will grow in live performance with the group making the most of the opportunities for stretching out that are commonly presented in a live context.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
The sun shines on the final day of an excellent festival.
Ian Mann soaks up the vibes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.