Miles Davis’ first electric albums, ‘Bitches Brew’ and ‘In A Silent Way’, unleashed an explosion. And not just in the minds of the listeners. In the seventies, great fusion pioneers such as Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie’s Headhunters and Return To Forever all had former mercenaries of Miles on board. But just as happened in the universe, the initial big bang set things in motion, which can still be heard today.
A prime example of this is the new album by TaxiWars drummer Antoine Pierre and his nonet Urbex Electric, ‘Suspended’.
The album may be inspired by the atmosphere of ‘Bitches Brew’ (spot the similarities in the artwork of ‘Suspended’), Miles’ iconic double from 1970, but you can’t confuse the two.
You’ll recognize the sonic palette —the electric piano, the stabs of trumpet and saxophone, the subtly funky rhythms— but Antoine Pierre recycles them as building blocks for an unknown, deserted urban landscape. A landscape that changes its views and moods faster than Miles’ albums did. At the time, Miles preferred to stretch his aural paintings to the length of a full side.
Drums take over?
Another thing Urbex has in common with Miles’ electric bands is that the proverbial glue between the musicians is really powerful. Whether played in unison or with loads of tension, you can feel everyone is facing in the same direction. As a bandleader and composer, Pierre never demands all the attention. His drumming is all subtlety. Clear, fizzy and refreshing like sparkling water.
Yes, Drums Take Over is – you’ll never guess – a drum solo. And a very good one at that. It is a cleverly constructed piece of craftsmanship, laid down over an invisible beat. Just three minutes in, Bert Cools and Bram De Looze provide increasingly strong accents on guitar and piano. Which goes to show that Pierre’s drumkit is only part of the puzzle.
It is therefore not entirely fair to single out Drums Take Over. Because everything on ‘Suspended’ is connected. It’s a story with a beginning (the controlled funk of Steam) and an end (the tumultuous exercise in difficult time signatures and loud-silent dynamics of Sound Barrier).
Expect the unexpected
The transition from Abstract: Piece to What U Expect! is particularly stunning. The first song seems to be a negative of the atmosphere of Miles’ In A Silent Way. Ten out of ten for sound design, thanks to Pierre’s skill with soft mallets and Jean-Paul Estiévenart’s desolate trumpet. Piece merges imperceptibly into What U Expect!, which unfolds a fixed rhythm (in 9/8, if my inner metronome is right) and which, above all, expects us to expect the unexpected.
Also, hats off to the musicians who complete this nine-member ensemble. Frédéric Malempré (percussion) is the Airto Moreira of the company and the man of the finishing touch. Félix Zurstrassen (bass) lays down the foundations for the grooves – Pierre himself mainly does so in the somewhat heavier You Nod But You Ain’t. Jozef Dumoulin (Fender Rhodes and electronics) and Bram De Looze (piano) fill in the gaps. And Ben Van Gelder (alto sax) and Reinier Baas (guitar) both excel upfront.
The buzz of live jazz
Suspended’ was recorded live at Flagey Studio 4 in Brussels, January 2020. At that time corona was still just a funny-tasting brand of beer and we didn’t know that live jazz would be hanging in the ropes for months. This record, which by the way was recorded crystal clear, confronts us with what we missed. In the best possible way.
Discover Antoine Pierre’s music:
This article was first published in Dutch on DaMusic.be.
Header image: ©Stefaan Temmerman