Swiss vocal acrobat Andreas Schaerer and Finnish guitarist Kalle Kalima have some things in common. As artists, each is essentially in a category completely of his own. Both are musicians who can always conjure something special from their chosen instruments. Both are known on the international jazz scene for the completely distinctive and original ways their music constantly crosses genres. Both have played together for several years in the quartet 'A Novel Of Anomaly'. And now they have recorded a first album together in which the focus is on the two of them. However, for this “evolution” (as the album title has it), they have also involved – and drawn inspiration from – a musician whom they both admire, Tim Lefebvre. The American bassist has worked with many pop and jazz stars, notably Sting, Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Mark Guiliana, Wayne Krantz...Lefebvre's involvement in the Michael Wollny Trio’s breakthrough was, incidentally, anything but tangential. In other words, his playing is at home in practically every context.
Listeners familiar with Schaerer’s and Kalima’s previous work may find "Evolution" somewhat surprising. "An album is such a different platform from playing live on stage,” explains Schaerer. “Over the course of our many recordings, we have become increasingly aware quite how differently one has to play." That awareness has also resulted in a particularly careful focus on the post-production phase of “Evolution".
Schaerer is describing a way of working much more familiar to the world of pop. And with its concentration on songs and lyrics, one might call "Evolution" a singer/songwriter project. "We've both been going in this direction for quite some time now. Kalle has his work with ‘KUU!’, and for me there has been ‘Hildegard lernt fliegen’ for quite a few years now.” In fact, Schaerer is more of the ‘singer’ here than we are used to. His typical vocal escapades are still there – clicking and popping sounds, beatboxing, polyphonically layered vocalise, and even the imitation of wind instruments... – but by his own standards he has been particularly frugal in his use of them here.
Schaerer emphasises that “we’ve not created this album from any kind of blueprint. "We didn't say, 'we're just going to do songs now', the pieces came about very naturally. 'Pristine Dawn' is a good example: in the first instance it had a song structure and some lyrics, but no melody. The moment when it was composed was at the studio session, and the recording is the 'first take', it just flowed perfectly, so you don't even notice the 11-bar structure, which is actually very weird." There is a similar way of working on all of the tracks: taking turns, Schaerer and Kalima each contributed both an idea and a song text (three of these are in fact by Kalima's wife Essi) before developing these versions in the studio together. Each piece therefore bears an unmistakable and very personal signature, not just musically, but also in the lyrics. "Kalle and I are also processing some deeply personal and intimate thoughts and experiences in some of the lyrics. And, of course, it's also about things that are currently bothering us in the world, from artificial intelligence to the question implicit in the album title, as to whether evolution is stagnating."
The track "Rapid Eye Movement'' shows Kalima's penchant for the colours of folk music; Schaerer's psychedelic "Trigger" takes him into the falsetto (high) register at the beginning and at the end. On the title track, things get pretty wild, before the piece comes to an end in free improvisation – as is consistent with its title. The fast "Multitasking" with its humorous plays on words, a "mouth trumpet” solo and a philosophical theme is just as typical of Schaerer and the breadth of his imagination as the very quiet and lyrical – and wordless – "So Far". On "Song Yet Untitled”, reminiscent of film music, and on the melancholic "Sphere", Kalima again lets his guitar sing out, as only he can. As Schaerer notes with enthusiasm, there is always "more than just the sum of the parts" when these two fine musicians and creative individuals work together.
And then there is also Tim Lefebvre, whose playing, sometimes on electric bass, sometimes on double bass (with a beautiful solo intro on "Piercing Love") has been such an inspiration for both Schaerer and Kalima. "We played with Tim for the first time at the big Jubilee concert celebrating 30 years of ACT. The chemistry was so good, we decided we would keep in touch. When I called him about 'Evolution', he didn't hesitate for a second", Schaerer remembers. "It was then really impressive how quickly he could connect emotionally with the music. It's crazy how he grooves on a track like 'SloMo', and how we were able to play ourselves into a frenzy over Kalle's guitar track."
In "Evolution", Schaerer, Kalima and Lefebvre have re-drawn the roadmap for the production of a jazz album. New avenues are constantly opening up in these complex but also catchy songs which are just made for repeated listening...and, of course, listening to the album is also a reminder that it will all sound completely different again when heard live.