Nils Wogram & Root 70, Fahrvergnügen

Philip Sherburne

By Philip Sherburne

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

"Crossover" can be an elusive thing for jazz musicians, but the German quartet Root 70 got a leg up on that front in 2006 when they collaborated with Burnt Friedman on Heaps Dub, an ambitious suite of cover versions of Friedman's computer-assisted "hyper-jazz" (both solo and, with Atom Heart, as Flanger). Friedman in turn chopped up their sessions and rearranged them into hyper-hyper-jazz morsels that nonetheless lost nothing of the musicians 'supple, muscular playing.

A hyper-jazz crossover group settles down and opens up.

Released the same year, Fahrvergnügen offers a more unadulterated picture of the group. Opener "Breathing" is sure to entrance fans of Heaps Dub's melancholic counterpoints: group leader Nils Wogram (trombone), Hayden Chisolm (alto saxophone) and Matt Penman (double bass) carve long, lyrical lines in close harmony, tripping from major to minor while drummer Jochen Rückert lays down a cushion of brushed cymbals and snare rolls. Chisholm's solo playing is particularly breathtaking here: sweet, lyrical and searching.

Songs like "Desert," "The Lake" and "Slow Mill" share the opening cut's ruminative, andante feel, making ample space for the players to stretch out and open up. A few cuts — "The Myth," "Bird's Trip" — emphasize a more aggressive, up-tempo approach, but even there a sense of restraint prevails, giving the record a striking unity of focus. Again and again, their approach to voicing stands out — just listen to the recapitulation two-thirds of the way through "Bird's Trip," where Chisolm's sax (sounding like an alto clarinet) and Wogram's trombone face off for a modal knife-dance. For all their roots in American jazz, Root 70's music is equally animated by the timbral and harmonic legacy of modern composition; combined with the striking twists and turns of their compositions and the expressive nature of their playing, it makes Fahrvergnügen one hell of a thrill ride.