I can thank drummer Hal Smith for sending this great little album my way. Without his endorsement I might have easily skipped over it in my review pile assuming it was yet another light spirited trio album, not what I typically chose to review. But this album is the real thing, a serious musical expression made drawing on several related early 20th century idioms
Reed musician Susanne Ortner was born in Germany but is now well established in New Orleans musical circles. Her explorations of disparate musical traditions, including classical and ethnic musics (notably klezmer) have found her in intimate trios with musicians around Europe and North America. She’s even had a book written about her. The name of this album includes a German word with no English equivalent. The meaning has something to do with yearning for a deep connection. On Last Stop Sehnsucht Ortner recognizes what she has finally found in the musical community of New Orleans.
In addition to a basis in New Orleans jazz the album draws heavily on the choro music of Brazil, an early syncopated form analogous in timing to American ragtime. Among thirteen tracks you will recognize Bechet and Morton but also hear the compositions of several South Americans. The result is engaging and satisfying. These are well chosen vehicles for these remarkable musicians.
I’ve been aware of guitarist Nahum Zdybel for some time. He is the husband of Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band guitarist Molly Reeves and I’ve read his name in the personnel of several albums. This trio format gave me my first chance to truly appreciate how good he is. In a guitar universe weighed down by mere technical wizardry he moves beyond with subtlety and true inspiration.
Around the city he plays comfortably in traditional jazz, free form art music, and indie rock circles and like a great number of younger jazz musicians he has a special place in his heart for punk. You won’t hear any of that here of course but he does play with a drive and innovative freedom that lifts the ensemble as it sometimes wows the listener.
Bassist James Singleton has been playing around New Orleans for 40 years in all the local styles including, of course, traditional jazz. His familiarity, with heavier music like urban blues, R&B, and again even punk rock, combined with Zdybel’s similar background and Ortner’s fascination with choro’s place as an equivalent to New Orleans jazz, may be the secret pin that makes this album so unique.
On the one hand, by all appearances this is an album that could lightly play in the background of a gift shop. Even the cover is a simple picture of a bridge in a New Orleans park. But allowed even the slightest attention it becomes fully captivating. Ortner, Zdybel, and Singleton aren’t just playing they are building fires together on the beach, waving at passing ships. Sidney Bechet’s “Chant in the Night” floored me, a top track on a top album of it’s kind.
Choro is seen as a community music in Brazil, defined in its earliest years by small groups playing house parties. It was the small private pleasure of musicians who might publicly play in large European influenced ensembles. That rent party feel is on display here. A warm inspirational shiver of an album. If you are in a position to please book them to play your garden, invite fifty of your most appreciative jazz friends, and don’t forget me.