Disc of the day: 22-03-10

Nicolas Meier: Journey (MGP, distrib Cadiz MGPCD002)
There are all kinds of musicians who try to overcome the limitations of their instruments. There are saxophonists who try to deny the need to pause for breath by fooling their throat, nose and lungs into that unnatural thing called circular breathing. And there are guitarists who use pedals and sustain to deny the inevitable staccato effect of plectrum or finger against guitar string. And then there is Nicolas Meier who eschews effects pedals and instead plays so fast and fluently that all those notes – what are they? 32nds? 64ths? – blend together to make a continuous snaking line. Just listen to his solo on Mountain Baba, this CD’s track three.

Or Part III, to be more accurate, since not only has Meier brought back jazz fusion, he has brought back the concept album too! Journey is just that, as the UK-based Swiss guitarist dedicates the album to his Turkish wife with whom he celebrates “this beautiful life journey”.

Also sharing the journey are Gilad Atzmon on clarinet and saxophones, Pat Bettison on bass, Jose Reinoso on piano and Asaf Sirkis on drums.

There is a strong Middle Eastern feel to the album, with Atzmon exploiting the microtonal possibilities of clarinet and soprano saxophone, and all the playing has that effortless virtuosity that leaves the listener taking for granted in the end the extraordinary techniques being brought to bear on the music, and concentrates instead on what is being said.

And what is being said is both beautiful and powerful a lot of the time. At the climax of Part V: The Summit, Atzmon builds and builds to soar and then fall back into the blisteringly quick sax/guitar theme at the piece’s centre. Sirkis is also very strong here, managing to be both quick and hit hard too. Part VI, Promenade In The Lantern Garden (yep, the title could have been nicked from a Gong album) has Meier using his glissentar fretless guitar so he can bend notes and play the microtones just like Atzmon.

Undoubtedly Meier’s best CD so far.

Categories: CD review

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