If variety is the spice of life, then Michael Kaeshammer’s Strut should go to the top of the acquisition list for anyone who has le goût for excellence dressed up in musical coats of many colours.
The disc is split into original songs and fascinating takes on the music of others. Of the latter, Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” scores high on freshness. Its electronic hues and reinforcement add yet another dimension to the perennial favourite. Kaeshammer’s solo burbles along with pointilistic surety before handing off to stellar bassist Ben Wolfe whose intervention is as welcome as the sunshine above. With a touch of bongo discreetly in the background, the track comes to a magnificent conclusion with Johnny Vidacovich’s drum solo: he uses the complete kit but doesn’t hog the limelight.
Left on his own, “Bass Gone Crazy” with its Boogie-Woogie-“R”-Us drive demonstrates a Peterson-like forward momentum that just needs a dash of “settled” to attain perfection. Further down the disc, “Sunny Morning,”—with a solid left hand permitting the right to push, pull and wander at will—is classic Kaeshammer and the ideal sassy tonic to the “Soundtrack to Something Beautiful.” Co-written with guitarist Kevin Breit and producer Peter Cardinali, “Something” combines a touch of madness, nervous mandolin comments and bending “heart” strings to transport the mind into a wholly different soundscape: a world that echoes Mahler and dares Guy Maddin to set this brilliant score to film (cross-reference below).
As a vocalist (“Comes Love,” “Cry to Me”) Kaeshammer declaims the lyrics with steady understatement, preferring to crack into the vowels and let the consonants fend for themselves.
Charts that feature brushes are remarkable for their absolutely spectacular rendering. The opening of “Sleep Time” emits a feeling of “oh yeah” from the first stroke; “Maybe Tomorrow,”—with its impressionistic, pastel colours—pulls in the brushes like the moon does the tide, only to have the upper register bass slip into heady emotion, beautifully capturing a slow motion love affair. Without doubt, the final measures say “adieu” not goodbye.
For some of the tracks a few helpers are engaged. Right off the bat the wisdom of that approach can be heard in “Twentysomething,” where John Johnson’s bass clarinet adds special depth and colour. A gourd and subtle bell enhance the aural spectrum even as the opening tosses around delightfully unpredictable metric ingredients that keep everyone on their toes. Bars later—after a nicely settled middle section—the talented instrumentalists drift away one-by-one: Farewell Symphony indeed! In the final moments of “You’re a Good Dancer,” Michael Dunston’s tambourine—following an attention-grabbing drum roll—suddenly evokes a scene from Major Barbara (in which charity needs an army for support!)—cross-reference below.
“Almost a Rag” would benefit from a slightly slower pulse. Lord knows Joplin’s “ragged time” has more subtlety and richness when allowed, rather than forced to let its infectious syncopation stroll not run to the double bar.
Once launched, “Now?’s” main event sizzles, soars and changes stripes more times than a politician during an election campaign (complete with a near inaudible “announcer!”). As is the case throughout this never-a-dull-moment disc, Kaeshammer’s solo is as inventive as it’s solid, sending everyone home—on both sides of the speakers—with thanks for such a marvellous result. JWR