An Exciting NYC Debut by Bassist Lukas Kranzelbinder’s Latest Project
Last night bassist Lukas Kranzelbinder’s Lukas im Dorf quartet made their powerful, darkly tuneful New York debut at the Austrian Cultural Forum in midtown. With a hard-hitting, frequently noir sensibility, they blend terse Steven Bernstein-esque cinematics with slinky latin rhythms and out-of-the-box improvisation and turn that into a style that you might not think would be unique but that this group makes indelibly their own. Kranzelbinder is the melodic and often rhythmic anchor of this project, holding the center, often tirelessly looping his motifs while tenor saxophonist Jure Pukl, trombonist Phil Yaeger and drummer Max Andrzejewski colored and warped the themes with verve and biting elegance. Anyone who might offhandedly dismiss European jazz should be tied to a bank of Marshall stacks and forced to listen to this group for twelve hours straight.
They manage to work a familiar formula – catchy hook followed by long, methodical solos that push the melodic boundaries, hard – to produce unexpected results. Except in the case that a piece is particularly dark, which at this concert it frequently was, and in that case they maintained a brooding focus.
Over a hypnotic bass notif, the night’s first song – from the band’s Very Live! album from last year – built to a bustling, distantly Mingus-esque intensity, Pukl’s fiery bop runs contrasting withi Yaeger’s more spacious, blues-infused solo. It brought to mind some of Tomasz Stanko’s more direct, melodic work from the 60s. Their second number juxtaposed intense horn harmonies and tightly resonant, pedaled bass chords against a woozy, swirly interlude lit up by a nimble, rather wry Andrzejewski solo, mainly on hardware and rims. The drummer also has a background in surf rock, which served him extremely well in this instance. At other times, his clattery, occasionally vaudevillian approach evoked Ches Smith in his most focused moments: what a pleasant surprise to discover a drummer so interesting and yet with such a viselike grip on the songs’ swing.
The best material came after a brief, airily bucolic interlude inspired by an Austrian big-sky theme of sorts, when they took it deep into the noir. Pukl built a blue-flame menace with his creepily modal solo in the tune that followed, while the best song of the night blended sustained Sex Mob minimalism with macabre cinematics evocative of Beninghove’s Hangmen. They encored with a tight, hypnotically Lynchian clave groove lit up by Pukl’s jaggedly spiraling tenor lines and a warmer, more terse Yaeger solo with a wry Gershwin quote: much as this music is in the here and now, you can also follow a straight line from this band all the way back to Mingus – or to Bernard Herrmann in places. Let’s hope they make it back to Manhattan sometime sooner than later.
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