Thomas Moeckel's Centrio: Send In The Clowns … And Let Them Play

Thomas Moeckel's arrangements and compositions frequently border on the theatrical, so it's probably no accident that the versatile Swiss jazzman chose to record a popular tune from the Sondheim songbook. In a lightly chorused and lovingly crafted rubato solo guitar arrangement, he faithfully renders the essential elements of the original before adding his blue-sense-worth in a relaxed swinging bridge of his own ("… and Let Them Play"), featuring downhome guitar phrasing and a nice upright solo by Dominik Schurmann. He then returns to the Sondheim melody, once again taking A Little Night Music home to the warmth of his solo guitar.

February 12, 2009 · 0 comments


Thomas Moeckel's Centrio: Secret Love

Hollywood has been a generous source of jazz standards, often from some fairly improbable vehicles. Sammy Fain penned "Secret Love" for the 1953 film Calamity Jane, a comic horse opera featuring the lovely Doris Day. It won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and has been a fixture in jam-session repertoires ever since.

Thomas Moeckel's version is full-throttle swing played at a breakneck tempo. After stating the head above the ubiquitous pedal-on-the-fifth launch pad, his vibrant and kinetic guitar lines expand into fat chord melodies before yielding to Stephan Felber's lyrical 2-chorus drum solo.

Many guitarists try to think and play like horn players, sometimes with mixed results. Thomas Moeckel has an advantage over most in that he has mastered both the trumpet and guitar, and the fusion of ideas from each instrument is obvious. At the same time it begs the question, which is his principal instrument? The answer may lie in this cut, in which he offers evidence that his love for the guitar is no secret.

February 12, 2009 · 0 comments


Thomas Moeckel's Centrio: C.C. Glider

This intriguing release from Thomas Moeckel yields more hues from the broad musical palette of the prolific Swiss guitarist, horn man and composer. Moeckel is hard to pigeonhole; he is certainly a jazz artist, but he frequently steps out of those shoes to dabble in blues and rock idioms. His unique compositions are free-range eclectic, frequently tinged with a bit of theatrical coloration. "C.C. Glider" is a lively samba, an ascending progression lifting a simple melody, stated in lush, full-bodied triads. Moeckel's mastery of the fusion guitar subgenre is evident in his minimalist approach, spaciousness, and tasteful employment of chorus, using the effect to enhance rather than cloud the instrument's tone. Solo lines soar free and effortlessly above the sprightly bass and drum support, enhanced by rich chord voicing with a slight suggestion of sitar timbre. This is one glider with plenty of air under its wings.

February 11, 2009 · 0 comments


Thomas Moeckel: Asora

Swiss triple-threat jazzman Thomas Moeckel puts aside the guitar to take a turn on trumpet for this airy valse by bassist Michael Chylewski. Recorded in the Zurich studio of Radio DRS as a special project, the album offers a variety of original compositions representing the moods of the seasons. "Asora" features Moeckel in a cool jazz mode, and his playing is authoritative and relaxed. Chylewski's dynamic upright is the key to the energy propelling the rest of the ensemble, supported by J.P. Brodbeck's judicious piano coloration and drummer Christoph Mohler's crisp, airborne punctuation.

I hear springtime and flowers in this piece but, to the best of my knowledge, Asora is a hotel in the charming Alpine mountain village of Arosa, Switzerland, known for its wintry vistas. Regardless, the playing on this track is buoyant and upbeat, a warm ray of sunshine to thaw the most snowbound weary traveler.

February 02, 2009 · 0 comments


Thomas Moeckel: Lost Inside Your Memory

On a brief visit to Zurich in the fall of 2004, I was browsing through a CD bin in a music shop tucked into the Old Town district between the rocky, wooded hill that cradles the University of Zurich and the bank of the River Limmat, when I stumbled upon the album Seasons by a relatively unknown Swiss guitarist, composer and trumpet player named Thomas Moeckel. I say "relatively unknown" only because few in the U.S. have heard of him. However, he is fairly well respected in European jazz circles, having played with legendary jazzmen Jim Hall and Toots Thielemans, among others, and had won the Chrysler Jazz Poll two years in a row. If I were to compare his playing to any other guitarists, John Scofield or Steve Khan come to mind.

Recorded as a special project in the studios of Radio DRS, Seasons showcases Moeckel's triumvirate of talent: his brooding, thoughtful writing; edgy trumpet; and cutting-edge fusion guitar work. The album sounds as fresh today as it did ten years ago. One of my favorite tracks, "Lost Inside Your Memory," features Moeckel's guitar and offers a glimpse into the depth of his ability to play and write both aggressively and introspectively, in a dreamy composition a bit evocative of Kurt Weill. The guitar solo bursts with bluesy, modal expression, riding the crest of a lush Leslie-swirled wave generated by Gunter Kuhlwein's Hammond B-3, while the underlying pulse plods like the tortured heartbeat of one who is trying to forget a lost love. Hard bop it's not, but I've gotten lost inside this jewel of a composition on many blustery winter nights.

February 01, 2009 · 0 comments


Franco Ambrosetti: Frasi

Born and still living in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, Franco Ambrosetti is a veteran of European jazz and a master trumpeter, though he is not strictly speaking a professional musician because he's always had a day job in business. In the course of his career, he's had occasions to hire both European and American partners to record with him, ranging from Miroslav Vitous and Daniel Humair to Michael Brecker and Kenny Barron. Here, the first class rhythm section led by Uri Caine is perfectly at ease with Ambrosetti's beautiful ballad, and the trumpeter himself displays a lyrical sound showing that, besides his abilities in the hard-bop and fusion fields, he has never forgotten his Mediterranean roots.

June 24, 2008 · 0 comments


Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Modul 39_8

You wouldn't think that a discussion of minimalism and funk would be a very long one. On "Modul 39_8," Nik Bärtsch's Ronin takes what might seem like two orthogonal musical substances and fits them together in a very natural way. Beginning with a cycling and moody piano figure, there's absolutely no hint of the changes to come. As the pace picks up (glacially), subtle bits of percussion are the only indication that the band will kick off at the 2-minute mark. Björn Meyer's bass drives lifts the mood for just a few moments before it is again just piano and percussion and mood. With just a few minutes left in the composition, we again shift up with piano notes showering all over a repeated horn figure and Meyer's bass popping away. I can imagine a discussion about this music lasting for days.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments


Nik Bärtsch: Modul 45

Nik Bärtsch has described his music as "zen funk," but usually there is more zen than funk in the mix. Yet on "Modul 45," we get a more judicious balance. On this penultimate track to Bärtsch's Holon release, the groove kicks into high gear from the outset, and the repetitions that make up so much of his music show their hypnotic side. Even better, Sha layers some free jazz lines on top of the rhythm section that give the whole proceedings a piquant edge.

After hearing this track, I am half convinced that, yes, there is a meeting place between minimalism and funk. But the point of intersection is an elusive one, and hard to maintain. Bärtsch himself hints as much when he quotes Morton Feldman's revealing comment: "I always leave the concert hall when I start tapping my foot." This intriguing performance captures Nik Bärtsch's Ronin at that moment right when the feet start tapping. But don't leave . . this is precisely the point where you'll want to stay and listen.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments


Nik Bärtsch: Modul 42

Holon, the new ECM release by Nik Bärtsch, gets off to a tepid start with this 6-minute track. Atmospheric jazz, when it is played in such an astringent manner, risks sounding like an under-produced film score. The repetitive, medium-tempo pattern that makes up most of this track reminds me of the kind of music a newbie director would cook up behind shots of a ticking clock in some slow-build suspense movie.

Of course, a ticking clock is suspenseful only when it leads somewhere.

Fortunately the rest of Holon gets better and better. The minimalist philosophy behind Bärtsch's music can build some grand effects, but you need to give Bärtsch time for him to deliver the goods. Spend an hour with his music, and you may walk away a believer, but if you're thinking about downloading this track as a sampler, think again. Bärtsch might have made this the first movement of a multipart work – and then I would have cut him some slack. But as a standalone piece, "Modul 42" will leave you checking your watch.

February 06, 2008 · 0 comments


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