Amiira (Arjuna Music) is a sublime example of modern jazz. It’s far too subtle to shout for attention, but rich in supple, steely creativity.
The trio of Klaus Gesing (reeds), Björn Meyer (bass guitar) and Samuel Rohrer (drums) all mix solo projects with extensive networking and collaboration, they’ve all backed notable singers at some point in their careers, and they’ve all explored the influence of heritage traditions in cliché-free and emphatically new music.
Meyer and Gesing have both played in Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem’s quartet since 2008. Meyer was also a member of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin from 2002 to 2012, and co-founded long-running Swedish trio Bazar Blå. He was also bassist in Bazaar, a quartet led by Austro-Iranian harp player Asita Hamidi, and until Hamidi’s death in December 2012 they ran Bazaarpool as a platform for international collaboration.
Away from Brahem’s group, Gesing plays in a trio with English singer Norma Winstone and Italian pianist Glauco Venier, and he also has a solo live looping project, reaLTime. Rohrer, meanwhile runs the arjunamusic label, and, alongside other projects, plays in AMBIQ with Buchla synth player Max Loderbauer and clarinetist Claudio Puntin – a project given the full album remix treatment by Ricardo Villalobos.
Amiira draws on everything these pointers suggest – an openness to cross-cultural influences, urban rhythms, modern musical technologies and unabashed lyricism, all in a spirit of inclusive collaboration.
The album works best full immersion, as the opening cuts make for a low key introduction that may not snag the ear of impatient or otherwise inattentive listeners. The long (eight-minute) lead track, “Shine On Me” sets Gesing’s sultry bass clarinet to a rhythm track that’s as as solid as it is supple as it is laconic, threaded with felicitous percussion loops. It breaks down naturally into shimmering ambience.
Some cuts, such as “Minne”, with an unabashed melodicism in the bass clarinet line and subtle electronic treatments, evoke John Surman’s mature music, but they do so with a light touch that’s less influenced by minimalism’s harmonic constants. “Minne” itself is short and beatific, and ends with a pacific play of bright cymbals over lulling clarinet and a gentle kick drum pulse, setting up the kinetic groove of “Fulminate” very nicely.
The album’s most upbeat cut, “Fulminate” has a deep rhythmic vibe and a gurgling bassline that suggests kinship with Weather Report or Material circa Hallucination Engine; I’m guessing it’s processing that gives Gesing’s reeds the quality of a bandoneon. Insistent though the track is, it’s typically concise (few of these ten pieces exceed five minutes) and exquisitely crafted, particularly on the dissolve into aqueous ambience.
From here on in heightened sensitivity reigns. “Flimmer” is exceedingly subtle, a flutter of brushed skins, bright, acoustic textures in the bass part and evanescent soprano sax, and “After You Left” is gentler still at first, taking on the quality of a proto-ambient electro-acoustic piece before Meyer counterpoints his own picked-out acoustic bass line with another, deeper line bolstered by Rohrer. Again there’s deliquescent coda, with the bass lines absorbing processed sounds that first suffuse then dissolve into them.
“Source One” has brittle, Supersilent-like percussion, an excellent, extended solo by Gesing on bass clarinet. This injects an essential charge of linearity against a buoyant, propulsive and excitable sense of momentum in the rhythm section. “Clouds Below” continues in a similar vein, with a highly charged, dreamlike ambience contrasting rich, songlike clarinet, brushed percussion, and skeins of harmonic electronic shimmer.
Meyers startles with a brittle, electroacoustic guitar sound rather like noughties Oval on “Refraction”, a very short piece developed with emphatic but arrhythmic acoustic and processed drumming. After this, “Sirènes Sacrées” seems strikingly conventional and rhythmically solid at first, but it deepens as it develops in easeful complexity, with deft electronic touches and mirrored sax/clarinet lines.
Of all the cuts here it’s the last, “What We Leave”, that treads the finest balance between ‘jazz’ and ambience, as electronic loops unspool against a thrumming but increasingly arrhythmic bass pulse, in counterpoint to a disassociated melody carried by soprano sax and bright but abstracted cymbals.
Amiira‘s an album of limpid depths and complexities; a grower and a keeper. Just beautiful.
Klaus Gesing bass clarinet, soprano saxophone; Björn Meyer bass guitar; Samuel Rohrer drums, percussion.