Rull's Royce - Rull's Choice

European jazz is a far different animal than mainstream American. Sure,
traditionalists abound there, Big Bands are popular, but the difference
is to be found with the innovators, improvisors that make jazz such an
exciting genre. In Europe they add a fitting, often much needed
continental flavour to the music that has its roots in the American Deep
South. Unlike the hot passions that Latins add to the jazz world,
European expression tends to be cool, polished like stainless steel; if
not introspective then definitely more contemplative than its American
cousin.
Unfortunately, few of these Europeans make an enormous splash on this
side of the Atlantic. Sure, there are the Claude Bollings and were the
Django Reinhardts, Stephane Grappellis. But they are the exception to
the norm these days. One reason may be the comfort zone. Imitation
rather than innovation often dominates mainstream jazz - just consider
how few originals you hear on new US or Canadian discs, and how many
covers of recognizable tunes there are. Innovators such as Diz, Miles
and Bird are long playing their horns with angels, Monk tickling the
heavenly ivories - or soloing with Satan¹s sextet, as the case may at
times be - and no one, not even Wynton Marsalis can be judged their
equal.
The gods may rest on their pedestals; they will never be toppled. The
goal of stretching the limits, expanding boundaries should be what
mortals should aspire to. Those who so so in Europe are for the most
part inconnu. Jean-Jacques Milteau, for example, takes jazz and blues
harmonica to another, almost surreal plane, but in the shadow of Toots
Thielemanns - who has broken through internationally - he is hardly
known, except by harp afficionadoes. Germans Eberhard Weber and Volker
Krieger also deserve attention here and abroad. Interestingly, it is
Northern Europe, Scandinavia, where it appears that there are the most
quality, yet anonymous, jazzmen plying their craft. The popularity of
jazz and blues festivals in Scandinavia means that sooner or later
someone will emerge from the Nordic clouds of obscurity.
Perhaps that might be Estonian percussionist Toomas Rull who has
recently released a CD that provides considerable aural pleasure. Rull
is known for his work in the popular and rock genres, to the slender
one¹s knowledge this is his first foray into recording jazz. On "Rull¹s
Royce - Rull¹s Choice" he has assembled a quality band called, with a
sense of humour, the Rull¹s Royce Orchestra. It is indeed a high class
luxurious sounding ensemble that features two Norwegian guest artists -
Frode Barth on guitars and electronic instruments, and Per Willy Aaserud
on trumpet. Estonia¹s own reedman Meelis Vind on clarinets is the other
guest. The band is rounded out by the ubiquituous and ever-so-reliable
Raul Vaigla on bass, Marek Talts on acoustic guitar, Mihkel Mälgand,
double bass, Jürmo Eespere, rhodes, Taavo Remmel also takes double bass
on two cuts, and Saale Kivimaker (would be a great name for a rock
musician!) on harp appears on the final cut.
The music is at times reminiscent of some of John Abercrombie¹s or Spyro
Gyra¹s earlier work, but is far more refined. Indeed, this is the type
of jazz that is ideally described as post-prandial perfect. Relaxed and
smooth enough to let one enjoy the after-dinner hours, but not
somniatory, lulling to deep relaxation (along the lines of Stanley
Turrentine¹s ballads, meant for the wee hours).
Rull¹s music does not belong in the background; rather, it is
contemplative and as such thought-provoking as good jazz should be.
There is a definite Nordic crispness, as well as Scandinavian sorrow to
be felt here. No coldness and aloofness though, and for that much of the
credit must be given to the warm tones of Aaserud¹s trumpet work, which
shines. ³Fiery² is anything but, yet hints of, at times, like the
restrained Nordic soul, deep lying hidden passions waiting to erupt.
³Jewish Dance² is perhaps the liveliest cut, although the name is
curious - no hora influence or levantine flavour to be detected here
other than the clarinet¹s hops across musical rooftops (a la Zero
Mostel?). With ³Thunder Magic² and ³Mantra² Rull moves into Mahavishnu
McLaughlin territory, but treads with care and precision. ³Timeless Joy²
is the one cut that one returns to time after time - layers upon layers
of reflective musings made eternal by the gentle brushwork of Rull. The
final cut, ³Rull¹s Royce² is marred somewhat by invasive electronic
effects, but Talts¹ guitar work saves the day.
The disc was recorded live in January 2002 at the studio of Eesti
Raadio. Rull produced the album, recording and mastering are by Teet
Kehlmann. What is curious, for a recent disc fom Estonia, is that there
is no label. Names of sponsors are given but otherwise, it seems to be
what in literature is called self-published. Also unusual, for an
Estonian CD, is the lack of website info. Thus it is impossible to give
information to an American about how to acquire this reflective journey
into the snowfields of Nordic and Estonian Jazz, except by suggesting
checking everyday.com, or prevailing upon friends back home to track it
down. Worth the effort, as Rull¹s disc is far from the typical North
American overpolished deriviative efforts that one usually hears over
the radio waves.
OTEPÄÄ SLIM