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Dissonances that make a habit

Valters Sprūdžs

Auziņš, Čudars & Arutyunyan Trio album «Tutti off Duty» — together, without any duties to stylistic boxes and usual musical structures

This is the third album of the Auziņš, Čudars & Arutyunyan Trio. The trio was doing really well with the first two — in 2018, the album «Baltic» received the Latvian music record award «Zelta Mikrofons» as the year’s best jazz album. A powerful debut which isn’t exactly a great surprise because all members of the trio are highly appraised jazz musicians in Latvia and abroad. The second one, the mini album «Maze», was released by Jersika Records in 2020.

The first thing I notice is the fact that the sound of the album attracts attention and makes the listener dive into it. This feeling is created by both what we hear and how we hear it. The first composition is Kārlis Auziņš’s «Awareness», and it begins with a gong typical for police. This is a really well-chosen intro because it shows the whole sound of the album — dark, murky, and sometimes even a little bit scary. Classical music influences of the 20th century can be felt here — the recording is interwoven with impressionism and expressionism elements. Traditional beauty forms are often played around with a large detour, and the moods and emotions are shown brightly. Dissonance is an often-used means of expression. It’s greatly demonstrated by the second composition, «Zug Nach Pankow» by Matīss Čudars. I’m not sure if it is connected to the protest «hit» of Udo Lindenberg of 1983, «Sondernzug Nach Pankow» — most probably, this is a quote of experience that came from living in Berlin because Pankow is one of the largest districts of it.

Even if I haven’t seen the album cover, I already began recognizing Matīss’ guitar sound. Most probably, this is the typical thing for Latvian guitar players, and also due to the reason that I’ve listened to his quartet album «Melancholia» a lot, but nevertheless, that’s quite important. It seems that Matīss plays the guitar just the way he would play a keyboard. If his parts were written for a piano, they would sound really well. When I keep listening, I can absolutely imagine it. Matīss doesn’t do much of bands, slides, bluesy licks, and other elements typical for electric guitar, and he also consequently uses the hall effects, thus making the voice of his instrument different and recognizable.

I have to note that Matīss can’t be considered simply a guitar player for some time already due to his musical works. He has already become one of the most prominent voices in Latvian and European music, covering a vast amount of genres.

The third composition of the recording, «Road To Nowhere», has a rich and powerful timbre of the saxophone of its author, Kārlis Auziņš. This composition is actually leading nowhere, being a never-ending cycle. Effective programmatic music. If I’m not mistaken, the other composition of Kārlis, «Steppenwolf», features a bass clarinet that significantly enriches the limited (only three instruments) color palette of the recording. A little side note — this is the instrument I especially love and have been listening to from the times listening to solo albums of Marcus Miller, where Marcus has played them really often. Kārlis Auziņš is another of the Latvian jazz musicians of the younger generation who has studied in Amsterdam and Copenhagen — this lets him be a part of the European jazz context, collaborating with European musicians and playing for the European audience. In this recording, he opens up new horizons for the sounds that I’m expecting from the saxophone. His breath, synchronized with the drums, percussive tapping on the keys, and toying with effect pedals — all these tools are used really skillfully and tastefully, enriching the music.

Ivars Arutyunyan is a filigree and skillful drummer. He as well has studied in Europe, and if I’m not mistaken, Berlin was the place of Ivars’ residence. The drums sound in this album seems great to me — together with Krišs Veismanis, they’ve created a wonderful percussive layer. Each bass drum sound is a heartbeat, and the composition «Dribblin’» is a great example of it.

While listening to this album, I become more and more certain that the high individual mastery of every musician of this album provides the great success of this album’s sound, but the fact that the album was recorded in the «AUSS» studio (ex. «Sound Division» in Riga) with the sound recording by Krišs Veismanis, and was mastered in the Control Room Berlin studio by the German engineer Martin Ruch.

In my opinion, the composition «Lament» could as well be a part of the legendary British rock band «Radiohead» repertoire — I can almost hear Thom Yorke’s voice in my head. This isn’t a rebuke through — my ears and I, all three of us, just took on a recognizable sound that I could place in a certain «box». This feeling let me especially enjoy this composition, although I have to say that the person who listens to this album for the first time won’t have many recognizable sounds in it, and this most certainly was the aim of the trio. The listener is deliberately denied the classifying process that’s very calming and recognizable, but delays real cognition in order to substitute it with a free flow of music, polyrhythms, and dissonances, melodies that are challenging and demand time to get used to them. You can gain a lot if you dedicate this time to the album. And no, we don’t miss the bass here at all.