Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

December 12, 2022


Kuratle’s intelligent writing providies a good platform for the improvising of a top quality international band, that includes the British musicians saxophonist Dee Byrne and pianist Elliot Galvin.

Clemens Kuratle Ydivide


(Intakt Records CD 382)

Clemens Kuratle – drums, electronics, Dee Byrne – alto saxophone, Chris Guilfoyle – guitar, Elliot Galvin – piano, electronics, Lukas Traxel – bass

I first became aware of the playing of the Swiss drummer Clemens Kuratle (born Bern, 1991) via his membership of the Julie Campiche Quartet, led by his compatriot, harpist and composer Julie Campiche.

Both of the Campiche groups albums, “Onkalo” (2020) and “You Matter” (2022) have been favourably reviewed on the Jazzmann as have a number of on line and in person live performances.

It was after the Campiche Quartet’s superb performance at the 2022 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny that Clemens was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of “Lumumba”, the début album from his international quintet Ydivide. My thanks to him for that.

In addition to his highly impressive drumming skills Kuratle is also a talented writer and has contributed material to the repertoire of the Campiche Quartet. “Lumumba” features his compositions almost exclusively, the only exception being a collective improvisation credited to the group as a whole.

Ydivide first came together at the Jazzwerkstatt in Bern in 2019 after its members had previously met at the 12 Points Festival in Dublin. It is a truly international group featuring Kuratle’s fellow Swiss Lukas Traxel on bass, Irish guitarist Chris Guilfoyle and the English musicians Elliot Galvin (piano) and Dee Byrne (alto sax), the latter being of Irish heritage.

The rapport generated by the group at led to further in Bern and Zurich and despite the interruptions caused by both Brexit and Covid Ydivide eventually managed to record its début album in December 2021, with the mixing and mastering processes being completed in the first half of 2022.

As a long time follower of Byrne’s work I was already aware of the existence of Ydivide and the release of the group’s début album was a very keenly anticipated event as far I was concerned. I’m pleased to report that it doesn’t disappoint.

Ydivide’s début appears on the Swiss record label Intakt, an enterprising imprint that champions cutting edge contemporary jazz and improvised music from both sides of the Atlantic, with many leading European and American musicians having recorded for the label.

The group name, simply a representation of the phrase “why divide”  is a direct commentary on the Brexit situation, the British members of the band being particularly staunch remainers. Kuratle says of the band’s international line up;
“The broader the perspective of the musicians involved the better. Starting this project was a revelation. The organisation can be quite a hassle but the musical results that the encounter can generate is just something that fascinates me and really nourishes me spiritually as well”.

The album title is inspired by Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Congo and a leading Pan-Africanist who was assassinated in 1961 in a coup supported by the leaders of the ‘developed world’ i.e. ‘The West’.

Kevin Le Gendre’s liner notes offer further insights in an interview with Kuratle in which the drummer / composer explains;
“Thanks to an encounter with Mandla Mlangeni, a south African trumpet player, and a discussion on apartheid with him and someone else I started to educate myself on colonial history with a focus on the African continent. The struggle for freedom in the Democratic Republic of Congo just hit me really hard. I remember listening to Lumumba’s speech that he gave on the day of independence several times and just being obsessed with interviews, his biopic, articles etc. The way he freed the DRC but was then instantly removed with strong help from the west shook me to the core and totally changed the way I look at the world. I realised what Eurocentrism meant then. I had the melody to the first theme of the tune in my head for quite a while, but only after dealing with Lumumba’s biography and the struggle of the independence movement in the DRC was I able to finish the piece, because I felt this was the emotional subtext this piece needed”.

It’s the title track that opens the album, emerging out of a broken march topped by Byrne’s fluent but acerbic alto sax and progressing through a brief cameo from Guilfoyle. As ever Galvin is something of a wild card, his subversive block chords adding extra colour and tension to the piece. Byrne subsequently stretches out further on alto as the music embraces an anthemic power before eventually fragmenting once more. The closing section features powerful rhythms and the return of the original theme. Like the Campiche Quartet, which frequently concerns itself with environmental issues, many of Ydivide’s pieces are protest music without words. “Most importantly his wordless songs are saying something” declares Le Gendre as part of the album liner notes.

Unaccompanied piano from the ever inventive Galvin introduces “Another One for Rose”, the subsequent addition of bass and drums helping to create a complex rhythmic pattern, topped by guitar and alto sax. Guilfoyle, the son of the Irish bassist, composer and educator Ronan Guilfoyle, brings an element of rock power and urgency to his guitar solo, his playing provoking a suitably dynamic response from Kuratle at the kit and eventually from Byrne on alto.

Incidentally a then very young Chris Guilfoyle appears on his father’s 2015 album “Hands”, recorded with a quartet featuring the heavyweight American musicians David Binney (alto sax) and Tom Rainey (drums). Review here;

“Marvelling” finds the quintet adopting a softer, more lyrical approach with the sound of almost subliminal sampled voices featuring alongside pellucid piano, languid double bass and the leader’s filigree drum and cymbal work on the intro. There’s some subtle, almost under the radar, guitar texturing too. Byrne is later added on alto, playing long, delicate melody lines as Guilfoyle’s playing also becomes more prominent. However the gentle,  essentially meditative mood of the piece is maintained throughout.

The title of “They Haven’t Learned Anything” is another one loaded with political discontent. Byrne’s increasingly agitated sax is multi-tracked and electronically manipulated in a performance that mixes free jazz with subtly deployed electronic elements. Military sounding drums herald a more obviously written section featuring sax and piano and the piece eventually segues into the following “No Cynicism”, a more forceful, but readily accessible, piece driven by powerful rhythms and with Guilfoyle’s molten electric guitar again taking flight, alongside Byrne’s alto.

No prizes for guessing what the title of “Bwegshit” refers to. “I founded this band when Brexit was all over the news and I was even afraid that the band might not make it to Switzerland” explains Kuratle.
Le Gendre makes reference to its “scowling synth drones”, these presumably generated by Galvin, and there’s a suitably dystopian feel about the opening stages of this piece. Traxel’s bass carries the melody for a while before being superseded by Byrne’s alto. Meanwhile Kuratle supplies an absorbing, ever evolving percussive commentary from the kit. The mood of this near nine minute epic changes abruptly as Byrne expresses her ‘Bwegshit’ anger with a belligerent sax squall and the rhythm team establishes an odd meter funk groove that provides the impetus for a feverishly inventive piano solo from Galvin. There’s a further sax storm from Byrne followed by a more dystopian closing section featuring the treated sounds of guitar and saxophone.

“Dim The Lights” is credited to Ydivide and is a freely improvised piece that sounds appropriately nocturnal, with Kuratle’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers augmenting the sounds of shadowy sax and synth drones and shards of acoustic guitar and double bass. The music becomes even more abstract as the piece progresses, with the use of extended techniques becoming more apparent, but the sinister mood remains throughout. It’s all highly atmospheric and grainy, like a soundtrack for an art house horror movie, and makes for oddly compulsive listening.

The album concludes on an upbeat note with the appropriately titled “Optimism”, which Le Gendre describes as “jaunty” and “rumba-like”. A happy, pattering groove percolates the piece with Galvin and Byrne making joyous melodic contributions. Galvin’s vivacious dialogue with Kuratle’s drums and percussion is a stand out moment and metamorphoses into a stunning solo from the pianist. It’s then that the leader’s drums that wrestle back control for an equally vibrant percussion feature prior to an exuberant collective finale. The message seems to be that we’ve been through dark times but that there is still hope.

Indeed this seems to be the theme of the album overall. Ydivide addresses similar themes to the Campiche Quartet, performing ‘protest songs without words’  but with different instruments and with different musicians. “It’s about global unity, in order to prevent inequality, greed and war and to avoid the climate collapse” Kuratle explains.

As a band Ydivide strikes just the right balance between composition and improvisation with Kuratle’s intelligent writing providing a good platform for the improvising of a top quality international band, whose members bring a variety of musical and cultural influences to the table.

Having enjoyed the in person performance by the Campiche Quartet so much I do hope the dreaded ‘Bwegshit’ doesn’t prevent Kuratle from coming to the UK to perform this music with the Ydivide band. That is something I would really like to see.

The Ydivide album has also piqued my interest in hearing Kuratle’s other projects such as his Swiss quartet Murmullo featuring Jonathan Maag (tenor sax), Florian Weiss (trombone), Franz Hellmueller (guitar) and Rafael Jerjen (bass).

He also plays with the trio Moes Anthill led by guitarist and songwriter Mario Moe Schelbert and with vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kate Birch.

Full details of Kuratle’s projects, both past and present, plus a full discography can be found at his website;


blog comments powered by Disqus