Syberen van Munster – Plunge for Distance [TrackList follows] – Sena SVM101, 48:17 [3/2/15] ****:

(Syberen van Munster – guitar, producer; Ben van Gelder – alto saxophone; Vitor Gonçalves – accordion, Wurlitzer electric piano; Rick Rosato – bass; Mark Schilders – drums)

It’s not every jazz artist who references a long-gone Olympic aquatic event, a Scandinavian downbeat electronica duo, and aging punk rockers. But one listen to Dutch guitarist Syberen van Munster’s debut, Plunge for Distance, and the distinct impression is this a musician who has his own way of doing things. Munster’s post-bop, sometimes fusion-esque arrangements aren’t typical, either. A key feature of the 48-minute, nine-track outing is Vitor Gonçalves’ accordion, which is often utilized to create a harmonically droning soundscape akin to organ. Alongside van Munster and Gonçalves are alto saxophonist Ben van Gelder (who has recorded with Colin Stranahan); bassist Rick Rosato (who previously worked with van Gelder, Stranahan, and more); and drummer Mark Schilders (also van Gelder, and several European ensembles).

Gonçalves (whose credits include Anthony Wilson and Maria Bethânia) also switches sometimes to Wurlitzer electric piano. Although Syberen is from Amsterdam, he’s resided in New York City since 2009, thriving amongst the Big Apple’s jazz venues such as the Blue Note, Bar Next Door and Smoke Jazz Club. He has acknowledged a varied range of influences, from orchestral composer Samuel Barber to jazz pianist/arranger Gil Evans, and more. This background also provides an uncharacteristic undercurrent to some of Munster’s eight originals (he also covers Milton Nascimento’s “Cais”).

Van Munster commences with the contemporary, chill-out tune “Röyksopp,” named after the Scandinavian downbeat dance twosome. The quintet coils through a kindling melody highlighted by Gonçalves’ Wurlitzer, while the bass and guitar craft a groove-laden riff which operates as a counterpoint to van Gelder’s single-note sax. The six-minute arrangement is full of solos, and the variations keep “Röyksopp” an interesting, modern piece. Another number, “Do You Know Reinier Baas?,” concerns one of van Munster’s fellow Dutch guitarists. This is a swinging, fusion treatment, with van Munster’s guitar impeccably stylish, and the group plays solidly over a rock-bent beat. After van Munster’s solo, he comps under some fine van Gelder sax lines, where the scales are adroitly accentuated. The band also attains a modish, current approach on the older-hipster character study, “Midlife Mohawk.” No, you won’t find any faux-punk here, but you will get some perceptive, ascendant jazz: lots of electric guitar, more back-dropped accordion, and Schilders excels at sticks and cymbals, as well as a veering beat-driven rhythm.

The CD’s title denotes an obscure early-1900s Olympic Games competition, where athletes plunged into a pool and tried to float as far as possible, until they ran out of breath. It was hardly an enticing sport and was subsequently retired from the pantheon. Van Munster postpones playing the progressive title cut until the album’s conclusion, but it’s worth waiting for. Van Munster changes gears a bit, and adds some fuzz tonality to his guitar, while Gonçalves layers an aesthetic ambiance via accordion over the tune’s unhurried stride. Here, each note transmits significance, from van Munster’s earthy quality to van Gelder’s blue-hued sax improvisation. A live version can be streamed online, which is an appealing, optional alternative to the studio performance. The quietly stirring ballad “Elegy for Edgar Adams”—which reshapes to a lively, upbeat cadence before the end—also has an association to “Plunge for Distance.” It is a tribute to the American diver and swimmer who won a silver medal in the men’s plunge for distance at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri. The two-sided tune begins with a careful pace, but in the last third, converts to a fast, bop-inclined caper where van Munster showcases his Kenny Burrell-esque lines.

Gonçalves stands out on the Latin American-edged “La Sorella,” a guitar/accordion duet. Van Munster shines with a clear tone reminiscient of Joe Pass, while Gonçalves proves how masterful an accordion can be for rhythmic support, harmonic accompaniment and wonderful soloing. The Latin American connection is stronger on Nascimento’s “Cais” (Portuguese for dock, pier, or a similar structure, thus another water/liquid reference). After an extended, reflective intro, the fivesome enter into a melancholy mood which is enriched by Nascimento’s plush melody. “Cais” finishes with an opulent Rosato bass solo which glides like a night bird flitting toward the faint stars. Aaron Nevezie did the engineering and mixing, and abets van Munster’s intentions, delivering subtle audio details which maximize the softer and louder moments. [Amazon does not have the CD for this; only the MP3 files, so be prepared to miss some of the details mentioned in the review…Ed.]

TrackList: Röyksopp; Elegy for Edgar Adams; You Wore Plaid; Do You Know Reinier Baas?; Diminuition; La Sorella; Midlife Mohawk; Cais; Plunge for Distance.

—Doug Simpson