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Spaltklang - 2009 - "En Suite"

(56:55, Fazzul Music)

TRACK LIST:                   

1.  Amuse-Bouche 1:10
2.  Von Anbeginn 13:39
3.  Heartbeat 5:08
4.  En Suite 11:56
5.  Ideen 7:48
6.  Evocazione 9:13
7.  Open Directions 5:50
8.  Molto Lento 2:11

Markus Stauss – saxophones 
Oliver Vogt – viola 
Stephan Brunner – bass 
Remy Strauli – drums; keyboards

Prolusion. The Swiss ensemble SPALTKLANG, from a German word that can best be translated as broken sound, was formed at the beginning of the millennium, and issued its first album in 2002. Since then the quartet has released a further three productions, "En Suite" from 2009 the most recent of these.

Analysis. The main concept behind this constellation of musicians crystallized when band leader Markus Stauss came up with the idea to "create with modern instruments what in medieval times was called a broken consort – a band composed of wind and pluck instruments and strings, including a percussion unit" as it's explained on their presentation page at Fazzul Music. As I'm not too well versed in music theory or history, this explanation doesn't tell me much, other than being a concise description of a concept where the goal is to make a modernized version of music with roots hundreds of years back in time. I'm probably not the best person to try to describe such a venture, as I'm somewhat of a novice in this part of the progressive rock universe. My main impression as far as style goes for this creation is that it's some sort of blend of folk music, chamber rock and fusion, with subtle undercurrents from free-form jazz as a spice to the proceedings. The interplay between violin and saxophone is the dominating feature. Both instruments are given room for individual explorations, but all the compositions are formed around the basis of these two instruments and their more or less interwoven performance. The sax seems to have more of a free role than the violin, the latter frequently synching with the bass guitar while the former sets off on a free wandering solo sojourn. But it's when the string and wind instruments pull together that this ensemble comes across as most interesting, whether it is taking turns in providing dominating and supporting roles in the exploration of a theme, creating gently disharmonic atmospheres whilst exploring subtly different variations of a motif or when wandering to and fro, harmonizing meeting points in compositions of a more free-form-oriented nature. Steady, energetic drums maintain momentum nicely, and the often complex and jazz-oriented delivery adds a few additional facets to this production as well. The bass guitar is frequently tied in with the violin in harmonizing sequences, and is often the provider of the basic foundation of the themes the violin and sax explore and improvise upon. The latter facet is the main reason for the jazz associations I get when exploring this disc, with the drums adding a certain emphasis to that perception. The end result is a good handful of compositions of a challenging and complex variety, brought forth by a crew of skilled musicians. Boundary-breaking to some extent, the border between fusion and chamber rock being the one most frequently crossed. Merely interesting at worst and brilliant at best, and yet another case where personal taste and perception will determine how much or not the material will be seen individually.

Conclusion. "En Suite" is a production that should find its key audience amongst those who enjoy fusion and chamber rock, and should be of particular interest to those who generally seek out challenging and complex compositions to cater to their musical needs. High quality musicianship comes with the territory, so to speak, with the same high standard for mix and production a bonus feature fans of this kind of material will appreciate.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: November 12, 2010
The Rating Room

Spaltklang - 2009 - "En Suite"


Analysis. Managed by Swiss saxophonist and songwriter Markus Stauss, Fazzul Music is the home label for some ten projects, most of which either ‘merely’ feature the maestro as one of the players or have it as their in-all-senses main man. The hero of this occasion, SPALTKLANG, belongs to the latter category. On its fourth release to date, “En Suite”, the band presents eight instrumental tracks, all of which (save the opening cut Amuse-Bouche – a one-minute sketch of impromptu improvisations) are fairly angular and complex compositions, with plenty of engaging interplay between the saxophone, violin, bass and drums. The primary styles explored are Chamber Rock, Zeuhl and conventional Jazz-Fusion (listed in line of descent, according to their weight in the album), although the first two full-fledged pieces, Von Anbeginn and Heartbeat, additionally involve South European folk motifs, both sounding overall like equal parts of each of the four styles, all mixed in a ‘cocktail’. Unlike the latter composition, however, the former (at 13:30 minutes, the longest track here) sometimes lacks in cohesion, as do Open Directions and Ideen as well. Each of these contains a theme or two, which, although not appearing as something from another story altogether, conflict with the ones that adjoin them. No, I don’t mean the quartet can’t cope with many styles – it definitely does, and it’s just that some of the transitions that seem to be awkward or underdeveloped. Apart from the aforementioned Heartbeat, three tracks remain compositionally uniform throughout, namely En Suite, Evocazione and Molto Lento, and are all excellent. (Okay, the album’s title piece also loses its bearing in a way. However, it does so only once and not for long, thankfully.) On each of these the band plays intelligent RIO with roots in some of the neoclassical and progressive rock composers: from Stravinsky and Prokofiev to Univers Zero and Zao, circa “1313” and “Shekina” respectively. On the other hand, this music is by no means as minor and emotionally dark as Univers Zero’s, and is somewhat less ambitious than that of either of the bands mentioned. To put it in a different manner, Spatklang is probably in the same ‘weight’ category as U Totem, at least because their “En Suite” album demands no less attention and concentration than “Strange Attractors” by the latter outfit does, and is almost equally impressive.

Conclusion. My first acquaintance with Spatklang’s work was overall pleasing and cognitive alike. Unlike those on some of the other Fazzul Music releases featuring Herr Stauss, the compositions on “En Suite” are not thrown together via improvisation, but are instead well thought-out and constructed, at least for the most part. With minor reservations, the album comes recommended to those whose progressive rock ration includes Jazz-Fusion and Chamber Rock.

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: December 10, 2010
The Rating Room

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