Michael JanischI don't get a chance to cover much of the diverse European jazz scene in this space, so I was pleased to receive a promotional copy of London-based bassist Michael Janisch's debut album, Purpose Built, which was released last week. Jansich is joined by a rotating cast on the album, save for drummer Johnathan Blake, who provides steady ballast throughout.
Purpose Built features a number of Janisch originals as well as some choice renderings of standards. Janisch's trio version of Love Is a Many Splendored Thing ranks among my favorite takes on the standard, on par with the Clifford Brown-Max Roach version. The trio (with pianist Aaron Goldberg) reveals a nuanced interplay with sustained energy throughout. Goldberg is restrained at first, but as the tune builds steam he unleashes a flurry of angular lines which reflect the unbridled joy of the song's title. Also inspired was Janisch's choice to include the obscure Miles Davis tune Milestones (no, not that Milestones), a lovely little bebop tune that seems to have been forgotten by posterity, as well as the Billy Strayhorn gem Blood Count. The former features a deft solo from Janisch, while the latter again finds Goldberg displaying some expressive brilliance which allows for Strayhorn's masterful construction to shine.
Janisch's own compositions are dense and boisterous; a less charitable reviewer may think they are in fact too busy. Case in point, Precisely Now sounds like a Dave Holland tune, and uses collective improvisation much in the same way Holland does in his great quintet (Janisch even has vibraphonist Jim Hart comp freely behind the soloists, a vehicle Holland has used to great effect). Of course, there are also tunes like Lost Creek, which, despite containing many notes in the melody, still manage to feel subdued and spare.
Janisch surrounds himself with able sidemen, including the aforementioned Goldberg and Blake, as well as rising guitarist Mike Moreno, who shines on his three contributions (especially the uptempo Adelante, on which Janisch provides a bouncy platform on electric bass). All in all, Purpose Built is an admirable opening statement from an expatriate musician who could make waves if he were to ever return stateside for an extended stay.
Track Listing: Precisely Now; Adelante; Love Is A Many Splendored Thing; Shumshi; Milestones; Serenade Of The Seas; Puk-n-Pappo; Sofa Stomp; Lost Creek; Blood Count; Beep; Moment's Notice
Personnel: Michael Janisch, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums; Patrick Cornelius, alto saxophone (5, 11); Paul Booth, tenor saxophone (1, 2, 6); Walter Smith III, tenor saxophone (1, 8, 11); Jason Palmer, trumpet (2, 7, 8, 11); Jim Hart, vibraphone (1, 4, 6,11); Mike Moreno, guitar (2, 7, 8); Phil Robson, guitar (5, 9); Aaron Goldberg, piano (3, 9, 10)