By Chris Robinson
The new album from the nonet Angles 9 (Magnus Broo, trumpet; Gioran Kajfeš, cornet; Martin Küchen, alto and tenor saxophones; Eirik Hegdal, baritone saxophone; Mats Äleklint, trombone; Mattias Ståhl, vibes; Alexander Zethson, piano; Johan Berthling, bass; Andreas Werliin, drums) is a stimulating live recording made at the 2018 Zomer Jazz Fiets in the Netherlands. It strikes a perfect balance between the ensemble and the individual, and expertly walks the razor-sharp edge that separates a slightly restrictive tightness from the exciting risk that the wheels could come off.
The ensemble writing – which is somewhat reminiscent of that of Michael Formanek’s Ensemble Kolossus – largely has the horn players staying in the bottom end of their range, and is generally dark and foreboding. Horn parts are rendered in large slabs of sound that carve through the ensemble with the unstoppable momentum of a glacier. Neither the solos nor compositions go anywhere in a hurry; the tunes unfold in minutes, not measures. And as the ensemble parts go on, individual players begin to embellish their written melodies, briefly peeling away from the front line and adding new colors, textures, and ideas in the process. In this way, the approach and effect is not much different from how a New Orleans brass band would signify on “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” Moreover, the members of Angles 9 convey the same deep sense of joy and spirit in their playing as a brass band. It’s almost as if European free jazz meets New Orleans.
The title track opens proceedings with a relentless, forward driving quarter note ostinato in the bass, piano, and cymbal. Ståhl enters on vibes, and over the course of his solo he meets horns playing the head, is briefly interrupted by a solitary tenor cry from Küchen, and negotiates some ragged horn lines before giving way to Kajfeš on cornet. All the while, a nastiness lurks in the shadows. In this piece and throughout the album, the ensemble tricks the listener into expecting an extended horn soli or a new solo, only to pull the rug away and go in a different direction. The twelve and a half minute “U(n)happiez Marriages” showcases the group’s dedication to the slow build and shifting the focus throughout the band. The tune doesn’t appear until almost three minutes in. Midway through the piece, Äleklint takes an excellent, lengthy bone solo before the band drops away for Berthling on bass. The ensemble returns with trills and cries that set up Broo on trumpet, who solos over the horns as the piece fades out. The album concludes with the uptempo “Mali,” which Werliin introduces with pure rock drums. It features a marauding saxophone line, a scalding solo from Äleklint, and an unexpected horn section riff that could be borrowed from a headlining pop act. It’s a fun and high energy close to the set.
A raucous good time, Beyond Us is easily one of my favorite albums of 2019.