Michael Janisch ‘Worlds Collide’ 2LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

Collisions do indeed abound on this record or perhaps more accurately things collide, elide and slide. Rock feel sits alongside jazz, melody crashes into improv, tight arrangements give way to jagged passages.

The notes talk of the title representing a set of individual and different tunes developed over time from disparate influences and Michael Janisch is quoted as “seeing it as analogous to what is going on in the wider world right now, especially the continual toxicity of social discourse driven by tribalist views from different positions on the political spectrum.”

In jazz terms you could see it from a different perspective. Back in the day there were much bigger geographic and musical gaps between different jazz scenes. Musicians would visit different places and play but the musical interaction was arguably not large. Sure musicians from different scenes would play together sometimes and some transitioned – mainly at that time to the US and some to the UK and Europe – but the feel of each scene was pretty well preserved.

Over the last 10 to 20 years this has changed, players like Janisch have moved to the UK along with others like Rod Youngs, Gene Calderazzo, Andre Canniere and more. And others have gone the other way Phil Robson, Mark Lewandowski for example.

And the big difference, I think, is that despite their respective moves, many players now tend to have cross-scene bands and projects. So it is with this recording. The main line up may be all American but in addition to leader Janisch on bass an adopted Londoner, John O’Gallagher alto, a former star of the NYC scene is now based in Birmingham. Jason Palmer on trumpet and Rez Abbasi on guitar are still based in the US as is Clarence Penn on drums – he also plays with New Jersey exile Phil Robson both in the US and here.

Of the guests, John Escreet on keys is an Englishman in New York and Scot, Andrew Bain, on drums and percussion spent time in NYC and is now in Birmingham and Bristol. George Crowley on tenor is based in London and is not an exile except from his home town. Worlds Collide indeed.

As I’ve hinted, the music reflects all of these cross-currents. ‘Another London’ kicks off with some signature firm and rounded bass from the leader leading into a funky riff with spacey synth from Escreet then the melody is carried by the horns into a short guitar solo and some solo synth. O’Gallagher picks it up with a lucid and sinuous solo. Escreet underpins with electric piano reminiscent of Chick Corea on Miles’ Bitches Brew. And then it’s out with an ensemble passage.

A quick-fingered repetitive theme opens ‘An Ode to a Norwegian Strobe’ – a kind of double homage to Strobes the UK trio and Marius Neset who Janisch has played with – and this sets the tone with an equally quick-fingered from the horns which morphs via a keys interlude into a morphs stately horn theme into another striking O’Gallagher passage which in turn gives way almost imperceptibly into a Palmer trumpet solo. They trade passages solo and move into ensemble. Keys and guitar chase each other around into a final ensemble statement of the theme.

‘The JJ I Knew’ is dedicated to a family member and is a freer slower tempo number with trumpet and guitar prominent. I haven’t mentioned Penn yet – his work is typically strong everywhere, accenting and kicking the music – but on this track towards the end, the horns underpin a sharp solo passage from the drummer.

‘Frocklebot’ does, as the notes imply, have some Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry free feel though the electric guitar gives it a different twist.

O’Gallagher provides a short and lovely alto solo to the ‘Intro to Pop’. Pop itself is a nearly 13-minute mini-suite dedicated to Janisch’s wife Sara. Stately bass, guitar and alto with Penn subtle underneath start it off and it moves along nicely in the same vein until the last minute or so when the trumpet leads a sharper feel before it softens again and fades.

‘Freak Out’ is back to a boppish quicker tempo with an initial horn theme punctuated with chording guitar. Rez Abbasi picks it up with a resounding long solo before the trumpet takes a more staccato solo. The closing passage has a beautifully written passage for the horns with the guitar in support.

A very impressive recording – collisions indeed, but in a rather good way.

Brian Homer