Jazzgroove Records (JGR063)
Reviewed by Joseph Cummins, September 1st, 2014
For Felucca, contemporary music means synthesis. Pierrot, the debut album of the Sydney trio, is a confident statement of modern jazz. This is not the over-reaching jazz-fusion of decades past but an approach to song writing and improvisation that, despite replacing electric guitar and vocals with tenor saxophone, still places the rock before the jazz. Taste, more important than technique – although this is never lacking here either – seems to be the guiding principle of the band, shining through in all aspects of the music. All three players – James Loughnan (tenor saxophone), Abel Cross (electric bass) and Paul Derricott (drums) – share the writing credits.
Paul Derricott’s drumming is often belligerent, always attention grabbing and full of momentum. Simply the dynamic punch of his snare drum on some tracks sets Pierrot apart from most jazz recordings. The trio builds its foundations on Derricott’s clout, but it never grows tiring, and there’s always a contrast and release around the corner. Equally solid are the footings supplied by Abel Cross’s electric bass. Cross often runs his bass through mild distortion effects, which, when combined with his tendency towards double-stopping, gives a fuzzy fullness to the trio that hints at the lower end emphasis of stoner rock. At other moments Cross favours delay and reverb effects, giving a haunting spaciousness to his playing. In Folding Water, Cross ventures into more abstract landscapes, with his bass sounding more like the language of a Star Wars droid. Perhaps the style of the songs suggest this, but there’s a sense that the tenor saxophone of James Loughnan is leading from the front, like a vocalist, although the added melodic versatility of a player obviously well-versed in jazz means he performs the role of lead soloist as well. Loughnan’s playing is focused and to the point, foregoing the verbose passion of many tenor players.
One highlight is the third track, Pixelated Mosaic, which begins and ends with Derricott’s drums, manipulated in such a way that they sound like they’re half playing in reverse. The track moves through several different rhythmic terrains, with Loughnan taking one of his more animated solos. This energy is dispersed by the next track, Sphinx, which features tender melodic interplay between bass and tenor, and Derricott channeling the pendulous ebb and flow of Paul Motion. Very rarely does the jazz training of the trio betray the intentions of the music. If the idiom does show its face, like in the middle of Loughnan’s fine solo on Ash, it is almost immediately repealed, in this case by the hypnotic repetitions of a refrain. On The Gurgler the band contort through rhythmic transformations with ease, welding simple chordal structures with lively improvisations. The control of all three musicians is a feature of the album, as is the balance of energy across the nine songs. With an average track length of about six minutes, Felucca’s music is accessible, while also offering the shading of minimalism that allows the listener the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in what is unfolding.
Felucca’s sound and approach invites comparisons to the best of American instrumental rock/jazz, with two of the most energizing ensembles playing today, Jim Black’s band Alasnoaxis, or Kneebody, immediately springing to mind. There’s no doubt that with Pierrot, Felucca deserve to be thought of in this company.