Jan Alexander, Storm Before The Calm Review
Harmony in Complexity: Jan Alexander’s Storm Before The Calm
by Ferell Aubre
Jan Alexander is a composer and pianist; on his latest endeavor, Storm Before The Calm, released on October 13, 2023, by Berthold Records, he presents a deep, varied odyssey through his musical development over the past decade. In this body of work, Alexander channels his experiences across Europe—Amsterdam, Essen, Stockholm, culminating in Cologne—into an intricate tapestry of sound that encompasses his audience in its narrative folds.
Alexander, an alum of prestigious institutions such as the Folkwang University of the Arts, Amsterdam Conservatory, and Royal University of Music in Stockholm, applies his academic rigor to practical execution with a finesse that can only be achieved by someone who has mastered his craft. His compositions, while complex and rich in their utilization of odd meters—a subject he examined closely in his 2021 thesis—are remarkably accessible. They embody a harmonious blend of melody and complexity that engages rather than alienates, welcoming listeners into Alexander’s world without reservation. This project combines ups and downs, structure and chaos through thirteen original compositions. He is joined by Anna Serierse ( vocals ), Sebastian Mattebo ( saxophone ), Teis Semey ( guitar ), Duy Luong ( double bass ), and Karl-F. Degenhardt ( drums ).
In Storm Before The Calm, Alexander daringly reverses the familiar idiom, embodying his journey through the tumultuous pandemic era. This inversion speaks to the unpredictability of life, particularly as a musician, which he aptly captures in his music. “Turmoil,” a piece produced with an intriguing array of recorded samples, mirrors the chaos of the period, combining jazz fusion’s zest with the methodical nature of electronic music—a skill Alexander honed during the lockdown.
Alexander uses Serierse’s voice mainly as an instrumental color with no lyrics, but there are also some pieces with lyrics on the album. In “Within your light,” the Dutch Serierse sings a beautiful melody with a more traditional setting and lyrics. Her singing style is filled with a lot of expression and passion. The text is about people who do not accompany you at every turn, but whose presence is always noticeable. Conversely, “Lost” delves into darker emotions, with the lyrics charting a journey from despair to hope with an intimacy that resonates deeply. “‘ Lost’ describes the state of depression until a single person appears and changes everything,” explains Alexander.
The ensemble accompanying Alexander comprises a selection of Europe’s most promising jazz musicians, each contributing their individual flair to the collective vision. The symbiotic relationship between the band members allows for compositions like “Sorrows” and “Change” to provide ample space for improvisation, while “New Horizon” emphasizes their ability to navigate the uncharted waters of rhythm and harmony without predefined guidelines.
What emerges in this album is not merely a musical project but a cultural confluence. Mattebo’s melodic saxophone, Luong’s rhythmically precise bass, Semey’s vibrant guitar, and Degenhardt’s versatile drumming—all infuse the music with a rich, diverse texture. The rhythmic complexity, such as the 9/4 time signature in “Tribe,” becomes a source of unity rather than division, as evidenced by audiences singing along during live performances.
Storm Before The Calm is a standout European Jazz meets fusion album; it’s a narrative, a journey, and a musical embrace that transcends geographical and rhythmic boundaries. Jan Alexander proves himself as a creative composer and a musician with the gift of storytelling whose tales are spun through the loom of an extraordinary European jazz fusion with subtle touches of math rock. The listening experience is profound, satisfying, and, above all, deeply human—a reflection of Alexander’s journey through the ebbs and flows of life, music, and the calm before and after the storm.