Rasmus Holm Quartet ‘Fatamorgana’ LP (Gateway Music) 4/5

There’s a stark, beguiling beauty to trombonist Rasmus Holm’s new quartet recording. It’s something of a refreshing triumph actually. Who’d have thought it, a trombone-led quartet, without a melody/chord instrument. No piano, no guitar, just Holm’s trombone, Julius Gawlik’s tenor sax and clarinet, Thorbjørn Stefansson’s double bass, and Amund Kleppan’s drums. Having performed together for several years in and around Berlin’s fertile music scene, this quartet appears to have found something elemental, something organic, something rather special in the music they’re making.

There’s an experimental edge that runs through the whole session here, that’s sure enough. But what is surprising, given the musical diversity of the band, is how melodic and oddly accessible the music is. A feeling of togetherness permeates the entire album. An organic, earthy honesty catches the imagination with every listen. Rooted in the jazz tradition, “Fatamorgana” also includes elements inspired by bands such as Beach House and Black Dub. It’s the clearly defined sound though that shines through, laid-back yet precise, with a deliciously weird mix of folklorish melancholy and joy, often at the same time.

Gleefully intertwined folk-infused jazz melodies are at the heart of this recording. Holm’s trombone and Gawlik’s sax are like twin instruments, absolutely attuned to one another. Exhilarating harmonies and criss-crossed melodies breathe life into the wonderful compositions, the two lead instruments not only weaving unified magic but also breaking out individually to solo. And how they solo. It’s such a fresh, inspiring sound, exploratory yet musical in the best sense. Also, key to the overall sound of the album are the drums and bass. Such a cool, relaxed vibe is created by Stefansson and Kleppan, that one simply has to marvel at just how influential to the feel of the music they both are.

It is, for me, the innovative sonic musicality of the trombone and sax together that are the highlight of this album. There’s diversity and freedom in the arrangements and the playing that are exceptional. Several tracks, including “Kibera” and “TIO” are brilliant tunes, with such a rich, colourful tapestry of sound as the horns intertwine and unravel so effortlessly. Bare melody lines come to the fore on “The Man Behind The Hill” and “Euphony”, while the more traditional swing tune, “Bologna Nights” really gives room for improvisation and interaction between the musicians. On three tracks the band are joined by trumpet player Jonas Scheffler who has also worked with Rasmus Holm for a good number of years. And once again, it shows, with the same energised understanding helping the band work just as well as a quintet, still with time to breathe, a harmonious balance prevailing.

Whilst “Fatamorgana” deviates somewhat from the rhythmic norms, it sounds as if it was always meant to be. The structure and harmonies of the compositions seem to reassure the listener, allowing a warm feeling of familiarity as the album progresses. The tunes evolve in a very natural way, with subtle nuances and playful moods making me smile as I allow myself to fall deeper and deeper into the band’s gentle, inventive, creative spell.

Mike Gates