Think of Focusyear, which is part of the Jazzcampus at this venerable institution in northwestern Switzerland, as an intense, one-year jazz immersion program for promising younger musicians. It’s similar to the Thelonious Monk (now Herbie Hancock) Institute’s two-year scholarship program, but there’s a strong European modern feel, with the adventurous art-jazz far outweighing the bebop. Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel is Focusyear’s artistic director.
Bosque showcases the compositional and playing talents of the Focusyear Band’s 2020-2021 edition. Six of its eight members hail from Europe. Tatjana Nova, a Russian-born singer and pianist now living in Germany, is featured on vocals. Alto saxophonist Joshua Schofield is from England. Tenor saxophonist Gianni Gagliardi is from Spain. Sebastián Greschuk (Argentina) and Yakiv Tsvietinskyi (Ukraine) both play trumpet, flugelhorn, and trombone. The crack rhythm section features Italy’s Lorenzo Vitolo on piano, New York native Ethan Cohn on bass, and Hungary’s Áron Tálas on drums.
Nova’s wordless vocals frequently set the mood on most tracks, at times sounding like an added horn, at others floating ethereally over the band’s rhythmic cushion. The two exceptions are songs with lyrics: Cohn’s “Bound to You,” which features a dreamy piano intro from Vitolo and an uncredited flugelhorn solo, and Nova’s own closing composition, “Joy.” The latter has an exuberant Afropop horn-section feel sandwiching her vocal spotlight and a strong tenor solo from Gagliardi. Nova then soars to bring it home.
The session opens with “Bonfire,” a boppish teaser composed by Tsvietinskyi. Pianist Vitolo’s “Little Light” is a fine feature for Nova and a trombone solo. More ensemble fire erupts on Schofield’s “Crash Landing,” the Greschuk-penned title track, and Cohn’s “Ladina Oswald” feature for the saxophones. The latter tune has a back story: On Cohn’s first day in Basel, he went to his apartment only to find it didn’t exist—he’d been scammed and lost his rent deposit—thanks to a mysterious person he knew via email as Ladina Oswald.
A darkish piano introduction on “The Nordic Shuffle” sets the mood for composer Gagliardi’s brooding tenor solo. The rhythm section’s lively bounce on Tálas’ “Mean Street” leads to another fine tenor solo and complementary vibes from special guest Jorge Rossy, one of Focusyear’s 15 visiting mentors during the 2020-21 academic year.