In Between

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After recording four albums with his Spaltklang quartet during the 2000s, Basel, Switzerland-based saxophonist Markus Stauss reinvented his "broken consort" as a markedly different sextet, but the revised group went on hiatus without a recording to its name. That didn't end the Spaltklang saga, however, with the group re-emerging as a quintet on In Between, released by Milan, Italy's AltrOck label in 2013. The original band's "split sound" drew from Stauss' saxes and Olivier Vogt's viola and violin, but there were other splits -- or perhaps meldings -- in Spaltklang's approach to avant jazz and jazz-rock, as the quartet incorporated everything from funk to chamber music in its diverse stylistic mix. With In Between, an invigorating new chapter has opened for the group. The 12-minute opening track, "Look For...," begins as a free jazz feature for Stauss' probing tenor, Christian Weber's resonant double bass, and the tumbling percussives of drummer Rémy Sträuli (the only holdover, besides Stauss himself, from the original Spaltklang quartet). This isn't the opening salvo into an album-length Peter Brötzmann-style free jazz onslaught, however; after a minute and a half the sax-bass-drums free exploration abruptly stops as trumpeter Richard Koch enters, harmonizing with Stauss on a melodic line that might suggest a classic early-'60s Riverside LP by George Russell. Koch is an important contributor to Spaltklang's new conception; as Weber switches to arco playing and the band's unison and contrapuntal lines take on the character of animated, jazzy chamber music, the trumpeter's timbre and phrasing recall Dave Douglas, back in the '90s-era New York downtown scene, weaving through the charts of the New and Used collective or leading one of his own diverse projects. But this edition of Spaltklang can also draw from down'n'dirty blues-funk, locking into grooves alternately steady and tipsy amidst passages ranging from deep bass drones and improvisational abstraction to sprightly multi-layered -- composed, complex, but loose -- instrumental dialogues. And while Stauss' soprano brings an enjoyably light contrast to his larger horn, prepare for no-holds-barred wildness too, from the saxophonist's tenor blurts and squeals to the outright squalls and noise of Francesco Zago, the Yugen axeman who not only employs Fripp-ish loops for atmosphere in "A Suite," but draws from a guitar lineage including Sonny Sharrock, Nick Didkovsky, and Mary Halvorson as he lets loose with crazed fretboard skitterings on the title track and outright post-grunge and noise rock blasts on "4 Elements." With themes and variations sprawling across five lengthy, multi-sectioned tracks and nearly an hour of music, myriad surprises await the listener on In Between -- it's a bit like mashing up some of the signature acts of the aforementioned New York downtown jazz scene from 20 years earlier into a single highlight reel. And for those mainly familiar with Stauss and Zago's work together on other AltrOck projects like the avant-proggy Yugen or dark ambient Kurai, hearing them rip through Spaltklang's cranked-up avant jazz is a real ear-opener.

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