Steiger: Give Space (sdban Ultra)

Belgian jazz trio return with rewarding second album, recorded across seven different locations

Released Sep 14th, 2018 via sdban / By Norman Miller
Steiger: Give Space (sdban Ultra) There are a lot of great contemporary European jazz outfits but until now the best have all seemed to be Nordic or Polish. So it's great to add a Belgian combo to the list. Steiger is a trio from Ghent, founded six years ago and comprising Gilles Vandecaveye (keys), Kobe Boon (bass) and Simon Raman (drums) – who may have absorbed some of those Nordic influences after studying at music schools in places like Copenhagen and Gothenburg.

This is their second full-length album, following a self-released EP in 2016, then a debut album entitled And Above All that came out a year later.

Though they sail under the flag of 'jazz' it's something of a flag of convenience, as these guys are what my jazz-playing wife describes approvingly as “properly out there”. Take a track like Chin-de-Pah, whose opening section of piano plonks, skewed bass and off-kilter percussion sounds like what you'd have got if John Cage had done jazz. But then it morphs beautifully into a fantastic spacey Latin-tinged second half of slapped bass meshed with urgent piano and drum noodling.

Captain Hooker is another mash-up of intriguing styles, starting off like jazz from a madhouse – think the soundtrack of a scary black comedy – before giving way to a pulsating stabbing piano riff mingling with parping brass and some vocalising that sounds like a hollering Keith Jarrett.

To add to the air of welcome experimentation is the unique sound quality that comes from recording tracks at seven different locations, with the music composed to respond to the external acoustics and atmosphere of each. So these are basically field recordings, with a dash of the unpredictable ambient sounds that brings. The band even refer to the locations as a fourth member.

The excellent Cripplewood, for example, lets the first four minutes wander intriguingly through an acoutic soundscape where bird song mixes with skittering percussion before the trio gather it all into a gorgeous melange of delicately reflective piano, bass, electronics and eerie chimes.

In contrast, the closing The Lady, The Lhama and The Dog deploys what sounds like a deranged harpsichord – but is doubtless just prepared piano – into a strange 1950s rock 'n' roll strut, while there's a wonderful hypnotic quality to the central piano motif driving through the curiously-named Henri's Entropic Blimp Flight. There's an ambient beauty too in the loose loveliness of Deimos with its repeating bass notes.

And There They Stood is a great opener, a jittery mash of sounds out of which a driving middle section emerges that sounds a bit like GoGo Penguin. But the great thing about this album is that it really doesn't sound quite like anything else – and what a good thing that is. 7/10