Realising a dream and paying a fitting tribute to Swiss composer Arthur Honegger is what we have in Samuel Leipold’s debut album, Seven Short Songs. This was a challenging project, simply because of the avant-garde nature of Honegger’s musical language. However, with the help from bass player Lukas Traxel, sax player Toni Bechtold and drummer Samuel Büttiker, the young Swiss guitar player has managed to create a contemporary jazz album which is both melodic and captivating. Unlike other band leaders who would like to take the upper hand, especially on a debut album, Samuel Leipold appears withdrawn at first or lacking confidence. When first listening to the album, it feels as if the saxophone player dominates the album but then slowly, one realizes that through his fluidity, Samuel Leipold acts as a gentle force that either propels the melody forward (as in his solo in Intervalle #1) or brings back the saxophone within the boundaries of the melody (as in Die Tanke).
In fact, a striking feature throughout the album is the contrast and repartee between the gentle, almost mesmerizing, guitar playing and the more untamed saxophone performance.
The album consists of seven tracks, three covers of Swiss composer Arthur Honegger and four original compositions. It is an interesting album which offers some more upbeat solo moments (Die Tanke) in addition to more tender compositions (Intervalle #2, Une pièce brève).
The album gets off to a wonderful start with the haunting Drei kurze Stücke #2 (Three short pieces #2(, the first of a three pieces suite based on Arthur Honegger’s music. In this interpretation, the bass and saxophone immediately introduce the riff, which is intercepted by splashes from the guitar. With a hypnotic bass in the background, the dialogue between the saxophone and the guitar keeps the melody forward and evolving.
Moving along its melodic journey, Drei kurze Stücke #3 is a track with a lazy cadence, where the guitar short solo is a nice contrast with the more edgy saxophone. Out of the three pieces, my personal favourite is Drei kurze Stucke #1. It has an enchanting feel to it. Samuel Leipold’s short performance is so transparent, his notes glisten in musical space and we truly get a taste of his talent and class. Somehow I wish we’d heard him a bit more present on the other two short pieces.
The three short pieces (#1, 2 and 3) are short sketches which are more atmospheric than melodious. In them, Samuel Leipold dissects the melody and renders the music of Arthur Honegger alive and more discernable for the new generations. However short each piece is, he manages to transform what sounds chaotic to a more defined musical concept and convey a specific atmosphere. The pieces sound like the strands of an oneiric introspection.
The silky-smooth melody of Intervalle #1 offers a panel of textures and rhythms which the trio seems so fond of. Samuel Leipold offers the listeners some guitar action which is proof of his technical prowess and lures the listeners into the melody before the saxophone breaks into a typical jazz crescendo, if only briefly. I personally am very fond of Intervalle #2. It oozes that flair of cool jazz, which I love so much and which I find so addictive. Its sensitive repetitive beginning leads to a wonderful atmospheric guitar solo. I particularly enjoyed how Samuel Leipold’s playing is so entrancing, it is as if it almost inspires the saxophone to play in a more subdued manner. In both Intervalle #1 and #2, the guitar and saxophone feed on each other’s energies, each manoeuvring along the storyline in their own way to finally join forces at the end.
Die Tanke (The Gas Station) is a good solid jazz number, dominated by a skittish saxophone, but which I found lacks any of that originality I heard in the previous tracks.
All in all, it is an album that needs to be listened to a few times to appreciate all its finesse. I found Samuel Leipold’s lack of gimmicks and humble playing greatly appealing though and can only wish for a second album where we could hear him more in the forefront.