Released: 1 November 2019
Album Rating 4.5/5
Favourite Track: ‘I Can Feel the Heat Closing In’
What happens when you put two drummers, two bass players and three horns into the same room? A curious combination of cacophonic chaos, charm and a trance-like euphoria. This curious combination comes in the form of Austrian group Shake Stew, who have released their third studio album Gris Gris via German-based label Traumton Records. Sitting between the realms of spiritual jazz, afrobeat and just utter madness, Shake Stew have forged a herculean record which is utterly scintillating.
Lending their beginnings to the Jazzfestival Saalfelden in 2016, the unique septet has become somewhat of a phenomenon across mainland Europe, drawing comparisons to groups such as the Shabaka Hutchings-led Sons of Kemet (who featured on their second album Rise and Rise Again), Ill Considered and Mammal Hands. The group comprises of their bandleader Lukas Kranzelbinder and Oliver Potratz on bass, a horn section comprising of Clemens Salesny (alto sax), Johnny Schhleiermacher (tenor sax) and Mario Rom (trumpet) alongside Niki Dolp and Mathias Koch taking care of percussion and drums.
The opening track, ‘I Can Feel the Heat Closing In’, sets the tone of the album, beginning with the double bass pair laying down rambunctious bass grooves which are supplemented with alternating percussive rhythmic patterns. The horns add to the scene by weaving in a harmonious North African modal melodic line, which continues whilst Clemens Salesny’s alto saxophone wails over the top, raising your blood pressure and flow of adrenaline as a sense of impending pandemonium washes over you. From the get-go, ‘I Can Feel the Heat Closing In’ demonstrates Shake Stew’s sense of control: their control of pace, their control of complex rhythms as well as their complete control of textures, all of which combine to create a powerful wall of sound.
Throughout Gris Gris, Shake Stew maintain these elements and so much more, as the group help us to travel through many musical realms. The paired ‘You Struggle You Strive’ and ‘You Let Go You Fly’ sees the group flip between odes to West Africa and the Middle East, guided by growling, undulating and menacingly dissonant solos from Johnny Schleiermacher and Mario Rom. There is the furiously fast ‘Keep Walkin’, demonstrating the rhythm sections formidable capabilities, whilst ‘No More Silence – Part 1’ is a more traditional swinging jazz number, contrasting with the afrobeat variant of ‘No More Silence – Part 2’ and ‘Grilling Crickets in a Straw Hut – Part 2’. Meanwhile, ‘Grilling Crickets in a Straw Hut – Part 1’ is funkier and the combination of Schhleiermacher’s flute with Tobias Hoffmann’s psychedelic guitar creates a feeling of 70s fusion jazz nostalgia, while ‘So He Spoke’ and ‘Like Water Falling Down with A Thousand Spirits’ are more atmospheric.
The septet’s unity and rapport with each other generates the vibrancy and energy maintained over the 94-minute record, making each composition pop out and feel distinctive. Although the album will not appeal to all who listen to it, the group’s skill and chaotic creativity is undeniable. Simply stated, Gris Gris is a superb album.
Lukas Kranzelbinder: Double Bass, E-Bass, Guembri, Shaker
Clemens Salesny: Alto Saxophone, Stritch, Opera Gong, Flexatone Johannes Schleiermacher: Tenor Saxophone, Flute Mario Rom: Trumpet Oliver Potratz: Double Bass, E-Bass, Shaker Nikolaus Dolp: Drums, Percussion, Thai Gongs Mathias Koch: Drums, Percussion Tobias Hoffmann: E-Guitar, Shaker (Grilling Crickets in a Straw Hut)
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