Jan Alexander, Storm Before the Calm Review
by Stamish Malcuss
In his latest offering, Storm Before the Calm, Jan Alexander invites us into a reflective odyssey through his last decade’s musical exploits, guiding us from Amsterdam to Essen and through the vibrant cultural heart of Stockholm before bringing us back to Cologne. The album released on October 13, 2023, under Berthold Records, is an emblem of Alexander’s scholarly pursuit of music—having studied at the Folkwang University of the Arts, the Conservatory in Amsterdam, and the Royal University of Music.
The album’s name, Storm Before the Calm, is a twist on the common idiom and speaks to the reverse chronology of Alexander’s emotional landscape during the global quietus induced by the pandemic. In this state of global unrest and personal turmoil, Alexander’s artistry blossomed, not into escapism, but into embracing the chaos that mirrors life’s unpredictable path—especially that of a musician.
Starting with “Turmoil,” the piece becomes a fitting testament to this unpredictability. With its varied meters and use of recorded samples—a skill Alexander honed during the pandemic’s isolations—this track stands out for its innovation. The blend of electronic music influences with the jazz tradition, marked by an exciting ostinato and spoken word, hints at Alexander’s exploration and amalgamation of genres.
Instrumentally, “Sorrows” and “Change” are intricately constructed to afford improvisational space, reflecting Alexander’s trust in his ensemble’s intuitive musicianship. This liberty culminates in “New Horizon,” which unfolds with a seeming autonomy, guided by the virtuosic instincts of his band.
His treatment of Anna Serierse’s voice across the album notably demonstrates his inclination toward using the human voice as an instrument. In “Within Your Light,” Serierse uses her voice to deliver a well-crafted set of lyrics, illuminating the melody with her palpable passion.
“Tribe,” in contrast, is a surprising gem, more straightforward in construct yet enriched by the collective spirit of the ensemble; the ensemble makes the unconventional 9/4 time signature feel natural and easy to follow. Here, the album breathes a communal spirit, embodying the ethos of jazz as a collective conversation.
The personnel brings forth a pan-European flavor—Sebastian Mattebo’s melodic saxophone, Duy Luong’s rhythmically articulate bass playing, Teis Semey’s vigorous guitar, and Karl-F. Degenhardt’s culturally syncretic drumming, along with Serierse and Alexander, the ensemble’s chemistry, adds a unique sound to Alexander’s vision. Their combined efforts crystallize into a sound that’s innovative yet accessible, complex yet melodious.
Overall, Storm Before the Calm is an enjoyable collection of thirteen compositions; it is an aural narrative rich in emotion and intellect. The album shows European jazz’s evolving landscape is bountiful with fusion elements and hints of American jazz, all coalescing into a harmonious dialogue. The time signatures, often complex, never obstruct the melodic flow, instead serving as gateways to immersive rhythmic experiences.
In this work, Alexander shows that he navigates the complex seas of jazz, a curator of sounds that combine theoretical concepts into emotional realities. Storm Before the Calm is created by a dynamic ensemble emphasizing storytelling, musical experimentation, and a collaborative spirit. It’s a work that not only resonates with the seasoned jazz listener but extends a welcoming hand to those new to the sound of European jazz, assuring them of the warmth and depth that all jazz, at its best, can offer.