After a milestone 2019 - eponymous album released (reviewed here) and tour completed - Wandering Monster’s upward trajectory has - like many others - evidently been bought to a shuddering halt by the C-19 virus lockdown, one imagines. But bassist Sam Quintana, who leads this young jazz-rock combo, has used the time wisely and composed.
The press release describes this double A-side EP as “gargantuan." What this EP lacks in heft - it is only two tracks, seventeen minutes in total of music - it makes up for in vigour and oomph befitting of this biggest of adjectives.
Nothing’s changed personnel-wise. Quintana’s joined by Ben Powling on tenor saxophone, Calvin Travers on guitar, Aleks Podraza on piano and keyboards, and Tom Higham on drums. And nothing’s changed in the music, either. And that’s a good thing.
Purists will often look down their noses as anything in jazz with a hyphen, but such snobbishness means they miss out on some choice improvising, temporal high-jinks and blistering playing from this tightest-of-tight quintets.
Two tracks, two different sentiments and sounds.
Metropolis (released at the end of July as a download) is eight minutes of taut group interplay, inspired by Quintana listening to Herbie Hancock and Wayne Krantz while in New York. It’s full of group improvising and begins with the most caramel-smooth saxophone melody from Powling - with Quintana playing in unison most effectively - which evolves slowly, while keeping its shape.
Then the brakes are applied, the bass goes into minimal mode, leaving the space for Travers to do his thing. And what a thing of beauty it is. His solo searches every musical crevice for inspiration, increasing in tempo and intensity, and is the beating heart of this track. As the tempo increases, so does the listening pleasure. There’s so much going on, it encourages you to click on ‘repeat’ and just go through again and see what you missed.
Second track Division (available from 25 September) is a slightly more sombre, abstract track, inspired by what are described as “recent political events”. Read into that what you will.
2020 has certainly been a year of tumult, and this “off kilter” track reflects well the edginess and unease we’ve all experienced in one way or another. Quintana’s bass is spare and rationed, giving space to Podraza’s Rhodes piano scratchings two minutes in and a plaintive melody from Powling. The track heads pell mell in all directions and over nine minutes gives every member of the quintet time to just vent and get rid of some of that lockdown rage. It builds to a real crecendo with Powling’s saxophone leading the line and ends in the most glorious racket.
Beauty and creativity out of chaos. 2020’s good for something, then.