The New Cool's explorations of modern jazz in Europe moves to Austria this week with a spotlight on bassist Lukas Kranzelbinder's septet Shake Stew. Their new album Rise and Rise Again is a wild trip in itself.
Shake Stew was created to perform at the Jazzfestival Saalfelden in the Alps in 2016, and composer/arranger Kranzelbinder took this project seriously. They worked together for a year leading up to the festival, releasing their debut album The Golden Fang with their unique instrumental combination of 3 horns, two drummers and two bass players.
The relaxed grooves of afro-beat form the core sound of Shake Stew, and the layered sounds of ensemble horns match the insistent drive of the double-rhythm-section. The new album is an exploration of different moods and energies.
Kranzelbinder says, "I wanted to create an album that people can put on to get six different kind of tracks, each with a unique energy, lifting them to different levels so that they can rise with the music as well as fall down and land softly with it – only to rise again and drift away to a different place once again."
Dramatic film score soundscapes develop into anthemic jubilation, thundering drums and bass propel saxophones and trumpet to dizzying heights. Meditative repetition brings a spiritual feeling to the music, both gospel and eastern traditions sounding right at home with each other.
A regular special guest since their formation is saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, whose early experiences with Sun Ra have led to forming his own popular modern jazz outfits like Sons of Kemet and Shabaka and the Ancestors. Adding a third tenor sax with the trumpet, basses and drummers on two songs never sounds like overkill.
This week's New Cool feature is "Get Up Eight", which cleverly follows "Fall Down Seven Times" on the new album. The first tune is melancholy and sparse, just trumpet and bass, recalling a day where things just didn't go your way. The struggle is real.
The "answer" piece begins with those insistent drums, a resilient trumpet line steps forward to state the melody, then picked up by the saxophones who settle into a cool, mid-tempo groove. It's a hypnotic repeating phrase that sets up Hutchings' beautifully rhythmic sax solo atop the entwined basses and drums. Rising to a triumphant climax, Shake Stew then gently returns to Earth just as they began.
The buzz is building as Shake Stew plan to unveil their sounds on an international tour, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed and ears open for if and when they make it to our corner of the world. As the Austrian newspaper Kurier put so well, "Style is a thing of the past – transformation and diversity are the new genre! Let the good vibrations flow! Shake Stew is an intergalactic road movie for your ears.”
The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5pm, hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.