by Sylvannia Garutch
Hailing from Austria is a band that is as unique as it is musical. Lead by bassist and composer Lukas Kranzelbinder, Shake Stew is Austria‘s shining export. The unique septet is back with their second album, Rise and Rise Again, after playing more than 25 gigs during the first months since premiering at Jazzfestival Saalfelden in 2016 and selling out their first record The Golden Fang, within half a year. Shake Stew is back with six new Kranzelbinder compositions that create a hypnotic mixture of afrobeat and jazz grooves shaken up by the powerful and enigmatic soundscapes created with a combination of two drummers and two double bass players. Shake Stew brings together seven unconventional musicians, all of them interesting characters of the young Austrian and German jazz scene. The ensemble is: Lukas Kranzelbinder – double bass and electric bass, Clemens Salesny – alto and tenor saxophone, Mario Rom – trumpet, Johannes Schleiermacher – tenor saxophone, Manuel Mayr – double bass and electric bass, Niki Dolp – drums and percussion and Mathias Koch – drums and percussion. With special guest, Shabaka Hutchings on two of the tracks. Shake Stew is the pinnacle of the Europe’s most creative jazz bands.
The album starts with “Dancing in the Cage of a Soul.” A distinct rhythmic pulse is created by the two drummers and two bassists. As the track unfolds, the combination of virtuosity, melodic refinement and uncompromising energy comes out in music. The melodic language is that of a combination of afrobeat, exotic scales and jazz phrasing and ornaments. The 28-year-old Kranzelbinder, is a skilled writer, his compositions, which optimally feature the exciting instrumentation of three-part horn melodies, two basses and drummers creates textures and layers that are intricate, but very effective in transmitting excitement and textural interest. Each instrument has an integral part in developing the composition into an ecstatic feeling that sets Shake Stew apart from the usual jazz group sound. With a spirited tenor saxophone solo by Schleiermacher, that track maintains and builds energy to a full musical climax and release that is an impressive arching composition.
On “How We See Things” the ensemble shows the power and versatility of two acoustic basses. The intro by Kranzelbinder and Mayr brings the sounds of afrobeat into focus with a groove by Koch and Dolp that fully utilizes the spectrum of two acoustic drumsets. With guest Hutchings, the front line is expanded to three saxophones and a trumpet. Kranzelbinder’s orchestration of the melody is colorful and maintains the African influence. Rom’s warm trumpet sound takes the solo feature. His long lines unfold in a relaxed manner over the musical layers of the rhythm section. It is amazing how the two basslines and drum parts sync to form a whole that is full, organized and not cluttered. The composition has excellent development and ability to capture the listeners mood and attention.
Its easy to see why Shake Stew’s continued success is ripe with result. The music speaks loudly for itself along with creatively conceived compositions and the unusual instrumentation of two bassists and two drummers, the wall of sound is overwhelmingly compelling.