The Year Of: Slow Days
Morr Music

On paper, The Year Of promises much, given that its five members include multi-instrumentalist and Morr vet Bernhard Fleischmann, guitarist and Trapist member Martin Siewert, bassist Werner Dafeldecker, vibraphone player Paul Kling (aka Burkhard Stangl), and soprano sax player and singer Christoph Kurzmann. It's the latter detail that's the problem. Though the players previously convened on “Take Your Time,” Welcome Tourist's 45-minute epic, Kurzmann's singing didn't appear on all of the two discs' songs. In small doses, his fragile croak is tolerable but, when heard throughout an entire album (as is largely the case on Slow Days), it proves crippling. Instrumentally, The Year Of impresses on cuts like “Bees Be,” a driving romp that alternates vibes, bass, and drums passages with string crescendos, and “Alone,” a dreamy confection of electronics and restrained funk beats that would have worked better as an instrumental.

Vocally it's another story altogether. When Kurzmann's voice creaks “Is it the wine or is it your perfume that makes me feel so near to you?” during the slow ballad “There's Something About You,” he sounds like someone's grandfather, and his attempt to sound tough in the call-and-response 'rocker' “Stephen Hawking” comes across as an unconvincing Lou Reed imitation. His singing also appears on “Sleep,” reprised from Welcome Tourist in a more expansive arrangement, and on the fifteen-minute centerpiece “Calling Sky.” Remove the vocal in the latter and you're left with an elegant slow-builder in Fleischmann's characteristic style. The quintet leisurely fashions a stately base for piano, vibes, and pedal steel to glide over before Siewert and Kurzmann tear the roof off with roaring guitar and sax solos, elevating the album to a rare (and welcome) level of cacophonous intensity, after which the disc ends with the largely instrumental guitar showcase “Ronnie Hawkins” (which, not surprisingly, borrows chorus elements from “Stephen Hawking”). No need to belabor Slow Days' downside; if there's an upside, it's that what's required to fix the 'problem' is just as obvious.

June 2006