Long before there were ‘super groups’ in jazz, there were quintets and quartets who more than qualified for the encomium, but the label didn’t exist when Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie began assembling some of the best talent on the planet, particularly Gillespie, who helped organise jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, experimenting with altered chord progressions and quick fire syncopated rhythms.
Who knows but when Gillespie branched out on his own and first started a band with bassist Oscar Pettiford, ushering in bebop, and later when he hooked up with the erratic Parker, that the era of the super group, as we know it today, truly began, climaxing some time later when Davis, John Coltrane and company revolutionised jazz in two days of recording with Gil Evans in 1959. Here, Davis’ sextet is at its most perfect.
Increasingly so today, the spirit of the Columbia years in the late 1950’s, pure spontaneity in playing (the first complete performance of each track on a Kind of Blue was declared a take) is much in evidence in what I consider cutting edge labels, such as Edition. Improvisation is all well and good but not if it doesn’t equate with freshness, and a new composition should at the least represent a challenge. For the musician. And the listener.
Godspeed by Morten Schantz is the first blossoming of a truly Nordic super group – Marius Neset on sax and Anton Eger on drums – which hits the ground running like Usain Bolt with Silence in the Tempest (Part 1), with a fantastic and escalating groove, which demands an old fashioned pair of speakers on either side of a room to enjoy fully. Put the cat out, sit back, grab a cushion, open a bottle of wine, borrow your neighbour’s hot wife, whatever, but relax, keep up and play it loud.
The fast lane continues with the title track, one of four of the eleven compositions coming in at over seven minutes, seriously tight playing between Neset and Eger, clearing the pitch for Schantz who segues the trio. The trio can do lush and mellow (Escape Velocity), a sumptuous tete a tete between Neset and Eger, with Neset fulsome and playful, the tempo and pace alternating a la Glenn Gould.
With Eger (Phronesis), Schantz and Neset, long time collaborators, you can expect, and get, a kinetic delivery, passion and drive, but the flip side is also in evidence, such as the contemplative Cathedral, a duo for Schantz and Neset, perhaps the most emblematic of the friendship of the musicians who, with this collection, have sculpted a recording of beauty and grace. I think I have played Cathedral a dozen times now, and I am only starting.
Naturally, Edition would have expected fireworks from Eger and Neset and compositional dexterity and innovation from Scantz, and Godspeed delivers, but the lasting impression is akin to a musical ablution, a series of idiosyncratic tributaries which dovetail into a richness of sound. Will we hear from a better trio this year? Nope. When I drive around Europe in the summer, Godspeed is coming with me.