Let’s create a little buzz around here. I’m saying that this is the second-best jazz CD set of the year.
Markus Lauterburg is a Swiss drummer and composer who has been kicking around for quite a while in a number of different bands of his own creation and others. His quintet known as Mumur is one of those five-piece bands that sounds like a ten- or twelve-piece; besides Lauterburg on percussion and writing everything, we have Dave Gisler on guitar, Tobias Meier on saxophones and clarinet, Martin Birnstiel on cello, and the incredible Valentin Dietrich on bass and electro-wizardry. I cannot think of a nimbler, tighter, more metamorphic ensemble in the jazz world right now.
Then again, Ennedi isn’t exactly “jazz.” Occasionally, it is — there are moments of canny, hard-packed throwdown here, with five superior musicians all playing off each other in ways that remind one of everything from Sonny Rollins to Henry Threadgill to Pat Metheny to the funkiest of Miles Davis bands. But there are times when Gisler takes over, sending the group into post-jazz and even the edges of metal. And Birnstiel’s cello gives Mumur the ability to shift into Third Stream territory at will.
This is especially true on the first disc, a seven-track out-of-genre experience called “Sinfonia.” The first track is called “S”, the second “I”, the third “N”, and so on, so I guess it’s all supposed to be part of a big hour-long suite. Not to say that this gets all, y’know, chamber-musicky — not that there’s anything wrong with that — as there are some extended periods of crashing and bashing. But the intense rondos and serial-music influenced moments are something that no one else around would even try. They’re also not even remotely afraid to get gully as hell: witness the beginning of “N,” with just Dietrich and Lauterburg locking into a nasty 5/4 groove before Meier jumps in with one of the most carefully calibrated solos of the year on what I believe is an alto clarinet.
There is not a ton of musical separation between “Sinfonia” and Disc 2, which is called “Babem.” Sure, the songs have actual titles and stuff in this set, and the pieces are more discrete than on the first disc. But the modus operandi is the same: keep the music flowing, change things up often and beautifully, and bring the listener along on the rollercoaster with you. “Syit,” the first track, starts with some drony guitar/electro goodness, opening up after three minutes into an elegaic theme that is almost impossible to pin down. The title track weds a handmade world-music vibe with some serious glitchery, like Autechre remixing Congotronica, if that makes any sense, mutating another seven or eight times during its 13 minutes to include instrumental rock, minimalist Asian-sounding percussion showcases (the only time Lauterburg shows off on the entire double album, by the way), and a heady break that I swear to God sounds like early Minutemen. Later tracks such as the spooky “Loo” (amazing country-bluesy slide work from Gisler) might hold together a little more, I suppose, but that always seems like damning with faint praise, especially when there is the even spookier 17-minute workout called “Ennedi” to consider, with its dinosaur grind, its jet swooshes, and the thrilling noir soundtrack melody at its core.
All in all, this is an ambitious piece of music that bursts into your living room with a shotgun and DEMANDS multiple listenings. Altrisuoni, sometimes too shy and conventional a label, has been hitting it out of the park all year; Format A’3 and Virginie Teychené have also released records that are also very much on my list. Switzerland, you’re killing it.