Recording of the Week,
Michael Janisch - Worlds Collide
In this current foul year of our lord, 2019, a title like Worlds Collide has ominous connotations: cultures and ideologies clashing, man vs mother earth, technology’s colonisation of every square inch of the planet encroaching on final Amazonian tribes. However this isn’t a doom-laden opus, and from recent interviews with Janisch it seems that alongside these concerns there is a far more positive flipside, namely a celebration of cultures coming together and sparking new ideas and sounds that have the power to heal and take us, hopefully, towards a brighter future. Aside from this conceptual framework though, Worlds Collide is a terrific slice of contemporary jazz, founded on Janisch’s inspired compositions, and played by a superb transatlantic ensemble.
As an American bassist and composer who settled in the UK at the turn of the millennium, Michael Janisch has become an important figure on the London jazz scene, not only for his desire to play with musicians from as many cultures as possible, but also as the founder of Whirlwind Recordings, the label he started in 2010 and has grown to be one of the UK’s key jazz imprints. Janisch’s bass playing, both acoustic and electric, has an appealing melodic emphasis without being overtly showy, heard to great effect throughout Worlds Collide.
The music takes us on some slightly surreal journeys, with first track Another London being a case in point. Inspired by Janisch’s impressions of walking around the capital and meeting people from different cultures, all of whom contribute to what makes the city so vibrant, it opens with a steady descending double bass theme which is quickly taken up by the synths (some nicely anachronistic old-school pads going on here), horns and in the crystalline guitar work from Rez Abbasi (his playing is a treat throughout, always subtly adjusting timbre to keep things flowing). Arabic scales drift in and out and the sense of metre expands and contracts, recalling a gentler version Ornette’s harmolodics, creating a woozy otherworldly feel. An Ode to a Norwegian Strobe (song title of the year) centres around an Abbassi guitar arpeggio, with some terrific interplay between Jason Palmer on trumpet, altoist John O’Gallagher, George Crowley on tenor and some funky, circular keyboard figures from John Escreet. The mood gets more turbulent on the sparse The JJ I Knew, a memorial to a departed family member, eventually settling into a showcase for Andrew Bain’s impressively loose kit work. Pop is a relaxed dedication to Janisch’s wife, and a nice pause for breath before the final Freak Out; it’s not actually as fierce as it sounds, more a good old-fashioned fusion workout in the spirit of Herbie Hancock’s Thrust. As a whole the album is focussed and varied, with plenty of memorable hooks, making the time fly as I listened; it’s been a joy to live with over the past week