“Conversation” is an ambitious new project by Florian Arbenz in twelve parts. Each part is a collaboration between the Swiss drummer and various musicians approaching differing themes and concepts, the results hopefully being released periodically up to Summer 2022. “Conversation #1: Condensed”, as you would have deduced, is the first one and Arbenz is joined by American trumpeter Hermon Mehari and Brazilian Nelson Veras on guitar.
Guitar and percussion flirt with the signature on “Boarding The Beat”, before the trumpet rips into the melody line. Although rhythmically complex, it has a loose, upbeat, fresh feel and also some exciting and unorthodox solo work from Veras’ fluid, unfettered Spanish guitar. From the uptempo start to the sophisticated trumpet balladry of “Let’s Try This Again”, well-suited to Mehari’s light touch.
You may have noticed that there’s no bass player on this album and this has allowed all the performers to encroach on the space left behind with some success. However on the excellent, “Groove A”, Arbenz hits a custom percussive concoction that simulates a popping bass guitar. The result is a repetitive and hard-hitting rhythm “section” but not wholly surprising when the group’s combined CV includes collaborations with Steve Coleman and Greg Osby.
Jobim’s “Olha Maria” is stripped back to its melodic core and adds a little more Rio flavour. Followed by the boisterous “In Medias Res” with a rapid-fire percussive motif and an exuberant drum solo.
“Vibing With Morton” is an abstract study of percussion textures framed by the sparse repetitive trumpet. By contrast, the dense, relentlessly booming chug of drums on Ornette Coleman’s “Race Face” is the platform for streaks of trumpet. “Dedicated To The Quintessence” is a showcase for Mehari’s warm tone and sense for a sweet melody. There’s an entertaining, almost playful interaction between the three performers on “Circle”. Yeah, a conversation. The highlight though is an energetic version of “Freedom Jazz Dance”. The ensemble pull out the stops as the intensity builds.
Percussion, trumpet and guitar is an unusual combination and it appears to have allowed the artists to explore and experiment with sonic textures and roles within a group even if for the most part, the results are still relatively conventional.
“Conversation #1: Condensed” is an exciting and interesting start to the challenge Florian Arbenz has set himself. As the roster of artists changes for the future parts, it remains to be seen where this project will lead us musically, but if the quality remains this high, it should be a fun ride.