Maxxxtet – Chapter 2

Finnish jazz at its best

From its inception more than a century ago, Jazz has taken a long, strange and twisted journey. From folk-art to more avant-garde adventures, jazz has never sat in the same place for too long, like a sort of ‘free spirit’ in search of the infinite. Throughout that journey, at least since the 1940’s, a time when Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and other be-boppers were having a major impact on a new generation of musicians, Europe has also played its own important role in shaping the art form.

So it should come as no surprise that European jazz has its own distinct style and flavour. And continuing in that tradition is multi-instrumentalist Max Zenger, a saxophone/bass/clarinetist from Finland, whose latest album Chapter 2, recorded with the Maxxxtet quartet, is at once both earthy and sophisticated in equal measure.

Highlights on Chapter 2 are many and varied. Opener “Varanus Priscus” is played with a relaxed beauty, reminiscent of early Soft Machine, where Zenger’s alto-saxophone provides the lattice-work around which other members Tomi Nikku (trumpet) Teemu Åkerblom (bass) and Joonas Leppänen (drums) add their own unique colour and texture.

Some tracks, such as “Year of the Rooster” and “Vortex” at times display elements of free-jazz underpinned by a strong sense of melodic invention, clearly designed to take the listener on a varied, unpredictable journey. “Tresteg” invokes the luscious tones of John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy, while “Tragikomik” hushes its way into the listener’s ears, to the extent that one could be sitting at a table in Birdland circa 1960.

The intelligently composed “Pristine” swings and undulates, and is yet another example of how each member of the Maxxxtet are musically plugged into each other, as they also are on final number “Z.E.N,” a delicately crafted composition, one rich in nuance and quiet imagination.

Released on the independent Eclipse Music label, Chapter 2 is an accomplished, cerebrally nourishing piece of work. Insulting as it may sound, this is the perfect music for an intellectual dinner party. People can continue to talk, and yet still be captivated by the outstanding music on display. It’s the sort of dinner party this listener would like to be invited to.