Here’s an interesting take on the concept of jazz trio, this one is Florian Arbenz, (drums, percussion), Greg Osby (saxophones) and Stephan Spicher (visuals). It’s a mixed media affair, the meeting of music and painting. There are two ways to enjoy this album, either as a stand alone audio recording of Arbenz and Osby or as an audio visual treat watching Spicher transform the duo into a mixed media trio. He responds to Arbenz and Osby as they perform live in his art studio. Instead of following fellow Swiss born artist Paul Klee’s suggestion of ‘taking a line for a walk’ he takes his lines for a dance. His artwork consists of two continuous lines, red then green moving freely across white paper with a tension echoing that created as the musicians improvise. Like the music, his painting builds in complexity until the red and green lines blend into a structure of black forms and knots of varying intensity. As the music itself finds structure and is resolved so the threads of Spicher’s painting conclude their journey.
It’s occurred to me that there could be a third way to approach this album. The absence of Spicher in my domestic setting as I listen strongly suggests the possibility of audience participation. I have my own sheet of paper and choice of colour, so it’s just a case of choosing a track to respond to before I step momentarily into Spicher’s shoes.
Arbenz says of the music, he and Osby were inspired by a series of paintings by Spicher. Presumably it is these paintings that line the walls of the studio which he and Osby perform in during their YouTube videos. He says ‘It’s not just about the exchange of ideas but trying to find a different ‘sound’ for each tune’. He goes on to explain that the three of them ‘worked to create a new collection both visual and sonic’ and ‘the listener should feel like walking through an exhibition and looking at different paintings’.
Arbenz and Osby have worked together over a period of 22 years, Osby joining Arbenz with his band Vein. This is the first time they’ve recorded as a ‘duo’, maybe that’s not the right term as it excludes the crucial influence of Spicher on the record. As you can’t hear Spicher I guess it will do. Arbenz beefs up his kit with the addition of Balinese gong and tuned kalimbas as well as some custom designed percussion. Osby brings soprano and alto sax and the legend that is himself. The musicians say the symbolism of Spicher’s choice of motif, two contrasting lines, red and green is not lost on them.
The albums seven tracks or eight on the download vary in approach from the taut riff of ‘Wooden Lines’ to the contemplative eastern flavour of ‘Chant’ to the funk of ‘Groove Conductor’. The interplay of the two musicians is compelling and intense but never feels spartan. There’s plenty of dynamic range from the pair, some of it coming from the custom made percussion that creates an unexpectedly rich bass. It’s a great luxury listening to just two players improvise on this mind expanding record.