Sunday, December 2, 2012

Review: The Social Media Tapes - Petter Wettre Next Generation

I hate the thought of missing out on the work of terrific musicians just because they reside in a different country.  I just came across the recent recording, The Social Media Tapes, by a Norwegian saxophonist, Petter Wettre, who’s been around for a while (recording at least since 1999), but who I never heard of before.  He’s made this recording available, around 56 minutes of music, for free on his Facebook page (all you need to do is “like” the page), hence the recording’s title, and I thought I would check it out.

The recording begins with Wettre’s composition “Man of the Hour,” a driving, mid-tempo tune with a pretty, intricate melody, reminiscent of some of the work Michael Brecker and Pat Metheny did together, played in unison by Wettre on tenor sax (that’s all he plays on this recording) and Kim Johannesen on guitar.  Johannesen begins the soloing with a George Benson-like tone on his guitar, but with a phrasing that has a bit more of an edge, displaying intelligence and intricate technique, and with sympathetic support from Jon Rune Strom on bass and Dag Erik Knedal Andersen on drums.  Then Wettre takes over, with a solo that is a good mix of lyricism, intelligence, and technical flash.  Guitar and sax close out the cut playing the melody in unison.

Next up is Andrew Cyrille’s “5 4 3 2,” whose percussive, disjointed theme is played by Wettre and Johannesen out of meter.  Bassist Strom then plays a strumming solo, accompanied by Andersen.  Then Wettre solos, bass and drums energetically accompanying him without a clear beat.  Eventually a groove does kick in, then even a half-time swing-like section, and finally Johannesen and Wettre play a line in unison to close out the cut.  Julius Hemphill’s “Hard Blues” starts with some bluesy strumming from Strom, and then Wettre and Johannesen play the melody slowly in unison.  After a faster section, the tempo slows down again and Johannesen plays a fast-fingered, bluesy solo.  The guitarist and saxophonist then get together to close out the cut.  Wettre doesn’t improvise on this one.

Steve Colson’s “Leaving East of Java” features a slow, meterless melody.  After Andersen muses for a while on the drums, producing some interesting sounds, the other players join in.  Wettre and Johannesen then trade chunks of improvisation (sort of trading 4’s, but it’s hard to tell with the elusive meter).  Wettre and Johannesen really show off their abilities here, Wettre coming off like a softer-toned Michael Brecker.  To end the cut, Strom plays arco, and the closing is again free-form and meditative.  Wettre’s “Manhattan Blues” is an up-tempo tune with another intricate melody, which Wettre and Johannesen play in unison, again like Brecker and Metheny.  Johannesen and Strom then play a free form duet, and then Andersen joins them while the spotlight turns on Johannesen.   Then Wettre quietly joins in with an ostinato, he and Strom accompanying an Andersen solo.  Wettre again chooses not to play a solo on this one.

Wettre’s “TTFN” is in the mode of a classic Ellington or Strayhorn swing tune, taken at a strolling mid-tempo.  Johannesen starts the solos, playing clean, fleet lines, with straightforward accompaniment from bass and drums; he really is a fine guitar player.  Then Wettre comes in, sliding through the changes, playing what is perhaps his best solo of the recording; too bad it doesn’t go on longer.  I think this group could do very well with a recording’s worth of more traditional tunes like this one.  “TTFN” is followed by another Wettre tune, “Hoot and a Half,” featuring another intricate melody played by guitar and sax in unison.  Accompanied only by Andersen, Strom plays a slick, fleet-fingered and strumming solo, his hands roaming all over the instrument.  Johannesen then gets in a good solo with some out-of-tempo accompaniment before settling into a groove.  Wettre also gets in a good solo, stretching out more than usual with strong accompaniment from the rest of the group.  The recording ends with Monk’s mid-tempo, swinging “Work,” which again has Wettre and Johannesen in unison on the melody.  Johannesen plays a solid, straightforward solo, then Wettre plays a solid, clever solo, though sometimes he plays more softly on his fast lines and they lose a little of their detail.  (I noted a similar quality in Dmitry Baevsky’s playing in a previous review of his recording, The Composers.)

The Social Media Tapes is a recording of good, serious, straightforward jazz, and it shows Wettre to be an excellent saxophonist, possessing a lot of technical skill and musicality, though, to my ear, his tone is a bit too soft, so that sometimes his intricate lines don’t stand out clearly enough.  (I think a similar point is true of Joe Lovano, though even more so, but that’s another story.)  Also, I would have preferred Wettre’s playing to have been more prominently featured on the recording; for example, he doesn’t solo on two of the cuts (“Hard Blues” and “Manhattan Blues”), which strikes me as a real missed opportunity, and guitarist Johannensen is featured at least as prominently as the saxophonist, if not more so. 

Finally, I feel the need to register an objection (though this may sound crazy to some) to Wettre’s choosing to make this music available to download for free.  In a review in All About Jazz, Eyal Hareuveni said Wettre is “offering his new album for free via social media, realizing that in the age of streaming services and pirate downloading, recorded music is not a reliable source of revenue.”  I think this conclusion is premature, and, even if recorded music as a revenue stream is not completely reliable, I still think a musical artist should be compensated for his or her recorded work.  Don’t most working musicians need all the revenue streams they can get?  So if Wettre chooses to make his all future recorded work available for free, I think that would be a mistake.  On the other hand, if Wettre chose to make The Social Media Tapes available for free as a marketing tool, so that more people could be introduced to his music and thereby be enticed to purchase other recordings of his, then I think this may have been a good ploy.  It certainly worked on me.

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