Guitarist Dave “Fuze” Fiuczynski has been knocking down the walls between jazz and microtonal music for over a decade now. But on Mikrojazz, the former Screaming Headless Torsos honcho, now the director of the Planet MicroJam Institute at Berklee, has found some noteworthy collaborators who take this experimental genre to another level—folks like legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette, fretless bassist Matthew Garrison and alto saxophonist and fellow microtonal pioneer Philipp Gerschlauer.
“Microtones” are so-named because they are smaller than a semitone, the typical interval in the 12-note octave common to most Western music. By contrast, Gerschlauer has figured out how to parse an octave into 128 notes on the alto saxophone, and tuned the keyboards used by the band’s fifth member, Giorgi Mikadze, for microtone flexibility. For lay listeners, the music of Mikrojazz lands with a different resonance, akin to a sitar or harpsichord. It is often piquant and on the cusp between sounding calm and spooky. There is a reason many of the song titles seem appropriate for a Tim Burton film—“Lullaby Nightmare,” “Hangover” and “Zirkus Macabre.”
The presence of DeJohnette is like a polestar amid the fretless strings and altered tunings. The timing and punctuation of his fills are characteristically rigorous and edgy and become the spine of songs ranging from the tender ballad “Umarmung” to the party-oriented “November.” A lot of ground is covered over a dozen songs. Fuze’s incandescent guitar solo highlights “MICROy Tyner,” his not-so-subtle tribute to a certain pianist. The tunings of minimalist composer La Monte Young create a beautiful serenity on “LaMonte’s Gamelan Jam.” And “Zirkus Macabre” furthers the notion that you are wrapped in a world of sonic funhouse mirrors.
All the while, Fiuczynski ensures the proceedings never become too esoteric or pretentious. His last microtonal disc for RareNoise was jazz that sought to mimic the sounds of birds and was dedicated to the composer Olivier Messiaen and the hip-hop artist J Dilla. Mikrojazz similarly retunes your perceptions. Every so often, we all can use a tweak.
Preview, buy or download songs from the album Mikrojazz! Neue Expressionistische Musik by Philipp Gerschlauer and David Fiuczynski on iTunes.