Other Animal – Other Animal – Traumton 4661, 53:15 [2/2/18] ****:
(Peter Meyer – guitar, electronics, producer; Wanja Slavin – alto saxophone, synth, flute (track 1), clarinet (track 5); Bernhard Meyer – bass, producer; Jim Black – drums)
Other Animal restyles jazz and improvised music into a forward-looking form where genres are bent, shaped and slanted to construct distinctive music which holds no allegiance to specific genre rules. The cross-global quartet produces a whole other type of jazz. Berlin, Germany brothers Peter Meyer (guitar, electronics) and Bernhard Meyer (bass) and fellow Berliner Wanja Slavin (alto saxophone, synth, flute and clarinet) have teamed up with New York City-based drummer Jim Black to make what they call “alternative prog-jazz.” Basically, the foursome fuse components of improvised and jazz music, indie-rock and ambient touches to create modern jazz which is firmly seated both in the present and the future. The Meyers are best known for their nu jazz Melt Trio. Bernhard Meyer has performed or recorded with John Hollenbeck, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Anna Webber. Peter Meyer studied with Rosenwinkel and performed with other European musicians. Slavin has played alongside Joachim Kühn and Kenny Wheeler. Black’s credits include Tim Berne, Uri Caine, Ben Monder, Dave Douglas and many others.
The 12 tracks on Other Animal’s self-titled debut were written separately by the Meyer’s: seven by Peter and five by Bernhard. The material breaks free of vernacular limits, pushing jazz to interesting degrees of modernity. Jazz is at the forefront. But there are full elements of pop, prog and other genres which merge into the group’s musical aesthetic. Black supplies a solid breakbeat on opener “Drown Dreams.” He secures a straight but slightly sideways rock-tinted rhythm which helps sustain the tune’s attractive melody. Meanwhile, Slavin glides above on his alto sax; he also adds flute. Meyer’s electric guitar acts as a sheen and builds on the piece’s mid-tempo and digitized landscape. The group shows an icy slant on the slow-moving and moody “Name of Cold Country,” which has a spare bass line which parallel’s Black’s decelerated groove. Slavin’s melodious sax intermingles effectively with electronic effects and Peter Meyer’s guitar swashes. “Name of Cold Country” has some somewhat distorted harmonics which augment the piece’s wintery arrangement. There’s a similar melancholic demeanor on the appropriately titled “Downbear,” which has a liberal swath of unsettling effects. Black’s expressive and rhythmically free tempo provides an unstable foundation. The lack of a fixed groove means “Downbear” has a nearly spooky characteristic which is accentuated by Slavin’s vaporous clarinet. That eeriness also permeates the aptly-titled “Spectral,” which generates an aura of enigmatic sensations. During “Spectral” Slavin holds the higher registers with his skating alto sax while Peter Meyer layers darker-dinted guitar. On the other hand, the shortest cut, the alt-rock influenced “Mr Manga,” notches up the muscle with a persistently anomalous rhythmic configuration by Black and Bernhard Meyer, while Peter Meyer contributes a toughened guitar tone. The pulsing “Qubits” isn’t quite as resolute as “Mr Manga” but reveals a comparable alternative rock-fronted attribute. “Qubits” (the name comes from the physics term for quantum bits) maintains an imperturbable beat which is buttressed by tiered guitar and electronics. Slavin is once again the improvising highlight as he ascends on alto sax.
Irony is not lost on Other Animal. “Nongeniality”—despite a knotty time signature—is user-friendly although somewhat tricky to follow at times and displays sturdy melodic concepts emphasized by Slavin’s articulate soloing. And the edgy “E Dance” is a bit too down-tempo and downcast for dancing. The number begins with an unsteady guitar shimmer, a sometimes-machinelike tempo and an atmospheric denseness and then changes to an alt-prog intensity. Other Animal concludes with “Blim,” which deftly blends jazz, alternative and prog-rock. Meyer’s guitar is upfront and he solos instead of creating a wafting sonic backdrop; Slavin improvises as well on alto sax; and Black and Bernhard produce an advancing rhythmic terrain.
Name of Cold Country