Tin Pan Aliens
There’s a reason Steve Swallow is considered one of the greatest electric bassists in jazz history, and it’s records like this. Tin Pan Aliens is the new album and apparently the name of the trio comprising Swallow and his Scandinavian cohorts, tenor saxophonist Hans Ulrik and drummer Jonas Johansen. Though the collective does not list any one member as its leader, I’d wager—at the risk of sounding American-centric—that Swallow is calling most of the shots here. Why? Because the music presents more than a few parallels with Swallow’s excellent trio album from 2003, Damaged in Transit.
Tin Pan Aliens get a lot of meat out of some barebones charts, and each musician plays with assertiveness and conviction. Nobody pussyfoots around. They kick off with a swinging tune in 5/4, “Mosse,” that immediately illustrates how well they listen to and communicate with one another. Ulrik’s tone is urgent and strong, and it would be no great leap to suggest he’s spent a lot of time listening to Sonny Rollins. The blissful waltz “Willow” dials back the energy but not the creativity, with Ulrik carving a path through the melody and bending notes all about. Johansen switches to the pandeiro—a frame drum that looks like a big tambourine—for the catchy calypso “It Will All Get Better,” which features a terrific Swallow solo and some zigzagging work from Ulrik. Two sketches by Swallow—“Soup!” and “Nuts!”—give the trio minimal melodies to rummage around in, and they find all sorts of goodies in them. Great improvisers rarely need anything more.