Frank Carlberg ‘Word Circus’ (Red Piano) 5/5

frank-carlbergPianist/Composer Frank Carlberg has a tidy back catalogue, with perhaps his most notable appearance being beside Kenny Wheeler & Bob Brookmeyer on their album ‘Island’ (Artist House 2002), although for this reviewer it was the release of ‘The Sound of New York Jazz Underground’ (Fresh Sound New Talent 2005) where his complex composition ‘Heaven’ grabbed tightly my attention, and indeed, the very same source for first hearing Christine Correa’s vocal range, proving the release to be the reference for many New York musical adventures of recent years, and it is with the latter that this new album first opens – a short, brow-raising one-liner pushes aside any preconceptions of this being simply a piano led project. No, indeed not, as throughout the album, Christine, a native of Mumbai, dominates the stage, weaving between the intricacy of Carlberg’s exceptional playing ability and the delights that band members John O’Gallagher, alto sax; Pascal Niggenkemper, bass; and Michael Sarin, drums bring to ‘Word Circus’, we are now under no illusion as to the reason for the chosen title, and why, as Frank Carlberg clarifies, “Word Circus is a continuation of my fascination with American poets”.

Written specifically for this quintet, and commissioned by Chamber Music America, the album unfolds around Christine Correa’s voice, the combination is electrifying, but not as one might presume when the word poetry is thrown in the mix – poetic yes, but not poetry as in the spoken word. This stimulating collection of 7 songs make up the album with ‘Even If’ and ‘Stop Telling Me’ screaming an almost spiritual quality, which is why I find the cover artwork to the album most misleading as the look of the album is nothing like the sound of the album.

“But what of the music?” I hear you say. “Simply stunning” comes the reply. The interplay between the band and vocals is astonishing, both rhythmically and dynamically this releases is imaginative. Although little comparison with tone and pitch could be taken from that of Norma Winstone during her ‘Edge of Time’ period, it still has an energy that reminds me of such skill and freedom, particularly when the delivery between Christine and John O’Gallagher is let loose. ‘Things To Do In An Economic Crisis’ has Pascal Niggenkemper providing his beautiful bass solo on what would otherwise be a frenetic number the most harden Avant-Garde listener would be satisfied with hearing. ‘Ecology’ with its slight mutterings, is out there with the best jazz around. There is no denying that Carlberg is a masterful technician at the piano. He knits the piece together with Michael Sarin ‘s pace lifting it for vocal finale – perhaps the band at its best. Indeed, every song has something special.

My only criticism of this release is the cover artwork. It just doesn’t fit with the music therein. That aside, this is a remarkable jazz vocal album and comes highly recommended. Whilst recommending; we would suggest scheduling your next New York trip around the group’s live dates, although admittedly a quick hop over to The Bimhuis in Amsterdam this December 13th might be less of a challenge for our UK readers. Frank Carlberg is pushing boundaries and we will be watching closely.

Steve Williams