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
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.