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Shake Stew

Rise And Rise Again


by Ian Mann

May 03, 2018


There’s a surprising degree of variety and intelligence about this album and an increased level of assurance about the writing .British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings guests with this Austrian septet.

Shake Stew

“Rise And Rise Again”

(Traumton Records TRAUMTON 4663)

Shake Stew is a septet led by the Austrian bassist and composer Lukas Kranzelbinder and features an unusual instrumental line up including two bassists, two drummers and three horn players, the musicians drawn from the Austrian and German jazz scenes.

Kranzelbinder plays both acoustic and electric bass as does Manuel Mayr. Niki Dolp and Mathias Koch double up on drums and percussion while the horn section features Clemens Salesny (alto & tenor saxes), Johannes Schleiermacher (tenor sax) and Mario Rom (trumpet).

The band’s second album also has a British interest with Shabaka Hutchings adding a third tenor saxophone to the pot on two of the album’s six Kranzelbinder compositions.

Shake Stew’s début “The Golden Fang” was released to considerable critical acclaim in 2016 and it was shortly after this that Kranzelbinder met Hutchings at the famous Porgy & Bess Jazz Club in Vienna and invited him to play with the band, the success of that performance leading to this guest spot on the new album.

The thirty year old Kranzelbinder is something of a musical polymath. Once a member of trumpeter Rom’s group Interzone he has also written an opera, founded the Polyamory Sound Festival and written commissions for the Sudtirol and Saalfelden Jazz Festivals. He even curated a number of outdoor concerts in the Carinthian Mountains which involved lengthy hikes for musicians and audiences alike with Kranzelbinder lugging his double bass up the mountainside. In addition to this he is a busy presence on the Austrian jazz scene, both as a sideman and as the leader of Shake Stew.

With its two bass line up (is Shake Stew jazz’s answer to Ned’ Atomic Dustbin?) and twin drummers it comes as no surprise to find that Shake Stew’s music is highly rhythmic. Elements of jazz, rock, funk and Afro-beat inform their music and the group’s sound also owes something to the spiritual jazz of the 1960s (John and Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders etc.) and the futuristic Pan-African space jazz of Sun Ra. All of the six pieces on “Rise And Rise Again” are written by Kranzelbinder, who impresses with his compositional skills.

Stylistically it’s not a million miles away from some of the groups that Hutchings has been involved with in recent years including The Comet Is Coming, Shabaka and the Ancestors, Melt Yourself Down, and of course Sons of Kemet, another band with a twin drums line up.  I think it’s fair to say that Hutchings is something of a kindred spirit and fits in very nicely.

“Rise And Rise Again” kicks off with “Dancing in the Cage of a Soul” which combines melodic electric bass patterns, busy, driving drums and percussion and a seductive blend of horns. With so much doubling up going on it’s difficult to single out individual contributions but there’s a powerful, probing tenor sax solo here, underpinned by a relentless forest of drums and percussion.
There’s also a lively drum battle between Dolp and Koch before that melodic bass motif emerges again, prior to a rousing collective finale. It’s a highly energetic and hugely invigorating start that incorporates a good deal of compositional sophistication within the headlong rush of the infectious grooves.

Things slow down a little with “How We See Things” which is introduced by a twin bass dialogue with the higher register instrument approximating the sound of a kalimba. As drums and horns are added the piece retains a distinctly African feel. Hutchings is one of three tenor saxophonists playing the main theme but the featured soloist is Rom whose fluent, airy trumpet floats serenely above the interlocking rhythms percolating gently beneath.

“Goodbye Johnny Staccato” was inspired by the 1960s TV series Johnny Staccato. The lengthiest track on the album it was written by Kranzelbinder to feature the tenor playing of Schleiermacher, so no difficulty in identifying the main soloist here! The piece opens with the sound of unaccompanied horns with Schleiermacher, Salesny and Rom interacting with each other in a manner similar to the style of a saxophone quartet. Melody combines with counterpoint, and yes, some of the underpinning phrases are definitely staccato in nature. A brief passage of unaccompanied tenor leads into a section featuring powerful bass and drum grooves which act as the launch pad for Schleiermacher’s solo, the tenorist stretching out and probing deeply. Later the energy subsides and there’s a passage featuring the sound of unaccompanied bass, this leading into a bass/saxophone duet and eventually a roaring, free for all collective crescendo.

The next two pieces, “Fall Down Seven Times” and “Get Up Eight” are thematically linked, the nomenclature perhaps also referencing the album title. The first part features the wistful, plaintive melancholy sound of Rom’s trumpet, accompanied only by double bass, presumably played by the leader. Rom’s solo is gently emotive and thoroughly compelling.
“Get Up Eight” is altogether more joyous and commences with the playful patter of percussion accompanied by the sound of Rom’s trumpet, now lighter and more relaxed in mood and tone. The horns, including Hutchings, play melodies informed by South African Township Jazz and American gospel music. Hutchings is the featured tenor soloist and asserts his presence with authority and fluency over a buoyant bass and drum groove.

The album concludes with “No Sleep My King?”, an atmospheric slow burner of a piece that incorporates Moroccan field recordings, hypnotic bass lines and the snaking, sinuous sound of Salesny’s alto sax. One can almost feel the heat of the desert and the whole piece has a cinematic and dream like quality.

By all accounts the group’s first album was a more raw affair than this with an even greater emphasis on the groove. I haven’t heard the first recording but on the evidence of the second the 2018 version of Shake Stew is more mature and places a greater emphasis on composition and all its correspondent colours, textures and nuances. Given the instrumental line up there’s a surprising degree of variety and intelligence about “Rise And Rise Again” and an increased level of assurance about Kranzelbinder’s writing. Shake Stew are a big deal in their native Austria, regularly selling out Porgy & Bess, and its easy to see why.

Shake Stew have toured extensively in Europe and also in Canada and are due to tour in the UK in 2019.  This album suggests that they should be a hugely exciting live act and their first visit to British shores will be very keenly anticipated. One suspects that Mr. Hutchings will be involved in the proceedings, which heightens the sense of expectation all the more.

In the meantime we have this excellent new album to enjoy. “Rise And Rise Again” will be released on May 4th 2018 on the German record label Traumton.

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