BLUFF, Sleight of Hand Review
‘Sleight of Hand’: Blurring Boundaries Built on Transcontinental Jazz Traditions with BLUFF
by Stamish Malcuss
In the rich landscape of jazz, BLUFF’s debut album, Sleight of Hand, exhibits a breathtaking confluence of musical worlds. Channeling the creative essence of the 1960s acoustic jazz scene and the equally diverse European jazz sounds of today, this work is a conversation across generations and continents. Recorded at the legendary Studio 2 in Hamburg, Germany, this ensemble of Christian Höhn (trumpet), Tim Scherer (piano), Lucas Kolbe (bass), and Jan Bernard Zeimetz (drums) crafts a sound that’s both fresh and familiar, innovative and rooted.
From the complex harmonies of the ’60s to the bold experiments of modern European jazz, Sleight of Hand paints a musical sound that is broad, intricate, and full of life. It’s an auditory bridge connecting traditions, a sleight of hand that transforms the old into something dazzlingly new.
“Roots and Wings” opens as a shifting straight-eight composition, steadily building in intensity. From the first notes, there’s a cohesive synergy that can be traced to the interaction of Miles Davis’ second great quintet (Miles Davis – trumpet, Wayne Shorter – saxophone, Herbie Hancock – piano, Ron Carter – bass, Tony Williams – drums), but with the added colors and rhythms of European jazz. Tim Scherer’s piano, Lucas Kolbe’s bass, and Jan Bernard Zeimetz’s drums construct a lush sound painting, providing a backdrop for Christian Höhn’s dialogic trumpet solo. The ensemble lowers the dynamics slightly, allowing Höhn to enter the soloing section with motifs, and just as Davis’s group would interact and build a story, so does Bluff. This is exemplified in Höhn’s melodic choices and improvisational flourishes that create a conversation within the ensemble as each musician accentuates or responds to his thematic calls and responses.
What really sets “Roots and Wings” apart is its embrace of modal harmonies and European jazz harmonic structures, creating a sense of romance and tension that builds on the hallmark of the 1960s jazz harmonic patterns. It’s not just a homage but a thoughtful continuation of the adventurous spirit that characterized the era combined with a European point of view.
‘Trains’ is a voyage on rails that invites the listener to a transcontinental musical experience. The driving groove, propelled by the poly-rhythms of Zeimetz and anchored by Kolbe’s repeating bass theme, establishes a rhythm akin to the heartbeat of a locomotive. It’s a sound that merges the past and present, echoing the American 60’s acoustic jazz with a distinctly European flair. Furthermore, the way the bass anchors the ensemble, which allows the drums to take a more active role in the interactions, has its roots in Carter’s and Williams’ interactions in the Miles Davis quintet.
Höhn’s trumpet takes the lead, not just as a solo but as a voice that converses with the ensemble, weaving through modal colors, and exploring different sonic landscapes. The technical proficiency showcased here is impressive, yet it never overshadows the emotional depth of his playing. There’s a sense of journeying through different musical territories, reflecting both the European inspiration and the heritage of American jazz.
The interplay between the musicians is something to marvel at, a dance of notes and rhythms that showcases BLUFF’s collective genius. They are in constant dialogue, each musician contributing, responding, and sometimes challenging the others, building a suspenseful yet cohesive musical narrative.
What makes ‘Trains’ stand out is its accessibility despite its complexity. The catchy melody lures you in, the driving groove keeps you hooked, and the innovation keeps you engaged. It’s a piece that rewards multiple listens, revealing new layers and subtleties each time.
With its improvisation and ensemble playing, ‘Trains’ indeed stands as a highlight of the album. It encapsulates BLUFF’s unique sound—a fascinating blend of jazz, rock, and both American and European influences, delivered with grace and ingenuity. Whether you’re a jazz aficionado or a casual listener, ‘Trains’ is a ride worth taking.
BLUFF’s Sleight of Hand is a debut that resonates with the soul of jazz, infusing it with a vibrant, contemporary spirit. It’s an album that transcends time and place, honoring the richness of the past while embracing the bold possibilities of the present. Like the deft fingers of a magician performing an intricate trick, BLUFF’s music lures, enchants, and surprises, revealing new dimensions with each listen. It’s not just a musical experience but an invitation to a journey, a pathway that leads from the well-trodden roads of jazz tradition to the unexplored territories of innovation and creativity. Dive in, and let the magic of Sleight of Hand guide your senses to a realm where music is not just heard but felt, lived, and cherished.