Wofo

Tweedt

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Released in 2009, Tweedt, the second album by Ghent, Belgium's Wofo quintet ("tweed" means "second" in Ghent's Flemish Dutch dialect) could appeal to more than one species of jazz cat. Opening track "August Sky" initially floats in free time with tenor saxophonist Michel Mast's spacious playing echoed and embellished by his bandmates. You might expect Coltrane-esque modal jazz to follow, but the seven-and-a-half-minute piece soon settles into a bright vibe and relaxed groove that would indeed go down easy on a lazy late-summer afternoon. Bandleader/composer/bassist Xavier Verhelst and drummer Tom De Wulf saunter along as Mast, clarinetist Mattias Laga, and guitarist Walter Verschaeren spin out lovely harmonies and rounds over the tune's chord changes. Lie back and enjoy: the breezy solos won't ruffle any feathers. But don't mistake light-hearted for lightweight; a mastery of composition and arrangement always keeps the music interesting and involving, even as it floats away and takes you along for the ride. With its shifting rhythms and sax-clarinet-guitar counter-melodies, "Skwoil" possesses a density of form ingeniously at odds with its disarmingly pleasant and upbeat mood; Laga's Balkan-Gypsy-klezmer-tinged clarinet wail is a perfect addition to the mix. Verhelst's electric six-string bass, which he plays exclusively throughout Tweedt, contributes to the music's punchy character despite the often low mixing of De Wulf's drums; the bassist brings outright funkiness to the jumping "Lineair Bb" -- but he understands the value of subtlety and avoids grandstanding.

The gentle "Bossa Bossu" is a fine feature for Verschaeren's tasteful stylings; the band then picks up the pace with "Eza Kitoko," a jubilant foray informed by township jazz/jive with De Wulf boosting the energy midway through, dispensing with strict timekeeping as he rolls and crashes across his drums and cymbals. "December Nights" is the flip side of "August Sky," dreamy but not necessarily somber, its melody played out on bass with the band's customary depth of layering in the other instruments, with glockenspiel accents (and a near absence of other percussion) and a suitable choice of bass clarinet for Laga's solo. After that wintry rumination, Wofo cut loose on "Schnitzel with Noodles," which rocks and swings underneath Laga and Mast's forceful calls and responses; a bit of Raymond Scott "Powerhouse"-ish trilling in the reeds briefly hints at the band's cartoony side. The album's closing title track clocks in at 13-plus minutes, but there's a surprise midway through. Beginning with some recorded bird calls, the track's intro parallels the opening moments of "August Sky" in form and feel, but is followed here by interludes of arpeggiated mimimalism that bracket subtle solo features for Laga and Verschaeren over Verhelst's walking bassline. With Mast again gliding across the top, Wofo fade away at the track's halfway mark, and the remaining six and a half minutes consist entirely of more recorded bird tweets, sans human-generated music. Any jazz cats of the genuine feline variety who are hanging around will almost certainly take notice.

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