Rainy Days on the Common Land
Sgt. Fuzzy: Sgt. Fuzzy
A month ago textura reviewed five releases featuring guitarist Ruben Machtelinckx; one not included in that roundup was this late-2015 set by Sgt. Fuzzy, a five-member outfit spearheaded by tenor saxophonist / keyboardist Thomas Jillings. In focusing on a harder-edged rock-influenced style, the self-titled release is a bit of an outlier compared to the earlier five, even if the band's instrumental attack shares a few things in common with Linus, the outfit co-led by Machtelinckx and Jillings. Elements of contemporary jazz and improvisation seep into Sgt. Fuzzy's material, though the project also draws on the avant-rock sensibilities of the Pixies.
As mentioned, Jillings, the composer of all seven pieces, is the leader, but he's hardly the only prominent voice. Guitarists Machtelinckx and Bert Dockx make their presence felt throughout, while double bassist Nathan Wouters and drummer Gerri Jäger provide a solid bottom end. An interesting hybrid of free-flowing jazz and rock, Sgt. Fuzzy's sound is brought into sharp focus on the opening “Suspension of Disbelief” when Jillings' purring saxophone merges with the guitarists' raw snarl and the rhythm section's rock backing.
All involved play with the attentiveness characteristic of improvising musicians, even if the group is rhythmically closer in spirit to rock than jazz. On a representative tune such as “Wet Love,” the contrast between the feathery tone of Jillings' tenor and his bandmates' aggressive attack leaves a memorable mark also. Sgt. Fuzzy's a band not afraid to wail (see the experimental, freewheeling “Pisces ex Machina II”), and having two guitarists on board makes for a heavy group sound, too, but the album's no noisefest. An occasional quiet episode shows that the five can play with delicacy when the mood hits (witness their languorous interplay during the mood setting “Pisces ex Machina I” and the opening minutes of “What's New”), even if such moments are relatively modest in number.
Speaking of delicacy, the trio 3/4 Peace, founded by Belgian alto saxophone and flute player Ben Sluijs along with Belgian-Peruvian pianist Christian Mendoza and French double bassist Brice Soniano, brings an uncommon degree of nuance to its sophomore effort Rainy Days on the Common Land. The trios of Giuffrey/Bley/Swallow and Konitz/Mehldau/Haden are cited as possible references, and it's certainly easy to draw parallels between the latter and 3/4 Peace, especially when Sluijs plays with a smooth elegance reminiscent of Lee Konitz (whether a direct reference or not, one track's even titled “Someone Like Lee”) and the playing of Mendoza and Soniano is characterized by the taste and integrity characteristic of Brad Mehldau and Charlie Haden.
One of the most appealing aspects of the recording is its diversity. Each setting seems to highlight a different side of 3/4 Peace, such that at one moment we're treated to an appropriately ponderous rendering of Bartok's Violin Concerto (its opening melody, specifically) and at another a breezy trio performance solidly in the jazz tradition. “Still” initiates the album with lyrical ballad-level interplay, after which the absence of a drummer in no way prevents the trio from infusing “Hope” with a buoyant bop feel. On a slightly more experimental tip, “Constructive Criticism” sees Sluijs fluttering from flute to sax and Mendoza strumming the piano's insides as Soniano holds things down with blues and Latin-tinged swing. At the recording's close, “Cycling” nods in Bill Evans' direction with a quietly radiant rumination whose piano chords naturally call “Peace Piece” to mind.This is a group clearly comfortable navigating styles of different kinds, even if each contributor has roots solidly planted in the jazz tradition. They also benefit from an economical set-up that allows for ample room to maneuver yet at the same time guarantees generous contrasts of sonority and timbre. On this eight-track collection, 3/4 Peace shows itself to be an especially agile outfit in the way its members interact with contrapuntal ease, splitting off at a moment's notice into solo, duo, and trio combinations.