Shake Stew, Lila Review
Blurring Boundaries with Shake Stew’s Lila
by Ferell Aubre
Shake Stew’s latest offering, Lila, saw the light of day on October 13, 2023, via Traumton Records. Led by the acumen of double bassist Lukas Kranzelbinder, the Austrian ensemble comprises an intriguing palette of two bassists, three horns, and two drummers. Before we begin, let us set the stage: Shake Stew is an ensemble that has earned its place in modern jazz and world music. Their latest endeavor was shepherded under the keen ears of Viennese producer Marco Kleebauer and features the spoken-word brilliance of Precious Nnebedum on the track “Not Water But Rest.”
Let’s begin with my personal favorite, “Lila,” the first single from the album. At first blush, one encounters a mesmerizing ostinato bass pattern. Kranzelbinder’s double bass entangles with Potratz’s Fender Bass VI, crafting a sonority that is intriguing and rich in the groove. Add to that the cosmopolitan timbral spectrum brought in by Dop’s drums, and you have a polyphonic base that’s a lavish carpet for the incoming horns. Schleiermacher’s tenor saxophone and Rom’s trumpet offer melodic dialogues that transcend traditional jazz idioms, embracing what could be termed as ‘world jazz’—a sub-genre imbued with world music elements. The track fuses intriguing harmonies with worldly rhythms in a manner that invites both intellectual scrutiny and physical movement.
Next on my admiration list is “Detroit.” This sonic exploration kicks off with an auditory mirage of electronic sounds. The rhythms sketched by Pirker and Dolp transport us to tribal terrains, only to be further ornamented by Kranzelbinder’s guembri—a Moroccan bass lute. The piece exhibits a prodigious amount of structural sophistication; its rhythmic layers build a polyrhythmic edifice, and the horn sections spearhead the musical journey from chaos to an organized groove. There is an unfettered, primal energy in “Detroit” that beckons listeners to dance, almost serving as a culminating ritual that is both wild and structured.
Finally, let us examine “Heat (Live).” Recorded live, this track is a spectacle of rhythm and timbre. Pirker’s drum kit and Dolp’s log drums share the rhythmic helm, interlacing complex patterns to lay a bedrock for the unfolding of Kranzelbinder’s guembri melodies. The interplay between the horns—Schleiermacher, Rom, and Wiesinger—captures the ephemeral magic of live performance. The track exemplifies an authentic call-and-response tradition, accented by improvisational freedom and underpinned by a distinct compositional framework. Its tempo and ebullient rhythmic variations serve as an allegro climax to this auditory journey.
Beyond its musical contours, Lila boasts of a notable collaborative landmark: the inclusion of spoken-word artist Precious Nnebedum in “Not Water But Rest.” It shows how open the ensemble is to expanding their sonic scope, and it adds an organic textural layer to their already multifaceted sound.
Moreover, Marco Kleebauer’s touch on the sound layering accentuates the album’s conceptual intent. It pushes Shake Stew’s core sound into a new realm but does so without sacrificing their unique identity.
In Lila, Shake Stew exhibits a rare knack for incorporating diverse rhythmic textures and melodic hues into a cohesive musical narrative. The album buzzes with their technical skills but also their artistic maturity. It captures the auditory zeitgeist of our times—blurring genres, bending the rules, and expanding the very lexicon of what can be termed as ‘jazz’ to yield what I like to call world jazz.
Lila is an album to be dissected, bracing the journey to be experienced. It celebrates the global village we’re a part of, inviting each of us to engage in its complex simplicity. In the words of the wise, music is the universal language of mankind. If so, Shake Stew’s Lila is eloquence in sonic form—a dialogue worth listening to, a discourse worth dancing to.