Zygomatik has the fiery groove of classic hard bop, but it's not that simple. There is a rock attitude to this album, and it's got a Motown sway. This is the kind of album that can be pointed to as a celebration of jazz and an album that will be liked by people for whom jazz really ain't their thing. It's an album with complex elements and modulating sounds, but which hits the ears with a seamless cohesion.
These are the characteristics that repeat throughout: swagger, speed, groove and fire.
The opening track has it's-Friday-night-in the-city electricity and all the instruments want to celebrate. The second track is a sprint down a packed street during rush hour. The third begins with the drone of bass arco and baritone sax moan, but ends with an inferno. The fourth track is a trippy ballad. The fifth is a thump and a bounce and a groove. The sixth track is the funk and it's gonna get feet out on the dance floor. The seventh prowls up on Indo-jazz territory but remains shrouded in mystery. The album ends with some bop as a proper send-off.
Just because the bassist's name displays largest on an album cover, doesn't mean bass is prominent on the album. It's an unfortunate occurrence that the bass doesn't always get a fair shake in the spotlight. Piet Verbist, thankfully, knows how to make his bass sing. On the lower registers, he is the undercurrent of the ensemble's energy. When a soloist begins to soar, Verbist's bass rises up just beneath it to where it's difficult to tell where the wing of one instrument ends and the other begins. Those times that the ensemble is searching for its voice on a tune all at the same time, it's Verbist's bass that weaves in and out of the mix of notes, making whole what might otherwise sound fragmented. The presence of Verbist's bass isn't just felt, but also heard, and it's the primary reason for this album's success.
Bram Weijters' typical grace on piano transfers startling well to Fender Rhodes, so that even when he is setting a groove, there is an elegance to his touch that takes it out of the territory of the conventional and into something different. It is Weijters' incomparable sound on Fender Rhodes that should rank as the second most important element to this album's success.
Matt Renzi and Fred Delplanq share the role of tenor sax. Deplanq is a plastic grocery bag caught in a stiff breeze... he doesn't stick to one direction or elevation, but there is a enchanting fluidity to his sound. Renzi is a bulldog. At times surprisingly fast, not interested in changing direction, and he'll clear a path wide enough for the entire quintet to play through. Though the musicians bring different approaches to the recording, it's to their credit that the end result doesn't sound like an album with revolving personnel.
Herman Pardon doesn't get out front on drums much, but his signature is all over this album. That a recording can alter its sound so frequently from tune to tune, and that Pardon embraces that change and channels it through his rhythmic palette, is a highlight of the album.
Vincent Brijs's baritone sax only makes an appearance on three of the eight album tracks. It's easy to appreciate Verbist's hesitancy to overdo it with that particular ingredient, but it's not too much to hope that Brijs has a longer stay-over on Verbist's next recording. Brus has an appealing delicate touch on a powerful instrument.
It's a fascinating relationship between Fender Rhodes and the saxophone tandem of baritone and tenor. They don't play off one another so much, or help each other build a groove and curl up in the pocket together. They follow the same composition, but they walk their own paths, keeping in sight of one another but just out of reach. The saxophones take a modern post-bop sound to melody, returning only when necessary to the starting point and always with a bit of drama. Baritone and tenor mimic one another's movements around the melody with equal parts despondency and enthusiasm, while simultaneously matching up with the chipper bounce of the Rhodes. Balanced against Pardon's insistent patter on drums, it creates some welcome tension from a clash between sounds that are searching, playful and crisp. And when Verbist's bass wends its way through their notes and steers the song to the finish line, the result is a thrilling bit of musicianship that results in a satisfying need for more.