Anton Eger – Æ [Edition Records, 2019]
In the social media age the distance between two individuals has been reduced to less than the previous six degrees of separation and something similar has happened in music. The distance between music genres has narrowed so much to allow not only listeners to make gigantic cross-genres leaps that were almost unimaginable, but also to see record makers being inspired by an incredibly diverse variety of music. Following this mobility of words and sound labels, naming a record as ‘genre-defying’ might raise the eyebrows. Still there are delightful exceptions that allow the use of this word, because they are heading into new directions in an unprecedented way. The first solo album by jazz drummer Anton Eger Æ is an exception to the rule, an alien hybrid of virtuoso polyrhythmic gimmicks, retrowave luscious synths and brave excursions into math-rock. Sometimes it’s veering in the territories of IDM or towards zappaesque crazyness, others in direction of a Zawinul style fusion. Still the parts don’t sum exactly what whole album is. So when the drummer indicates this record being an eclectic genre-defying mix of electronica, hardcore contemporary beats and retro musical guilty pleasures in the press material, he sounds eligible for the exception above.
Norwegian born, half Swedish and Denmark living drummer Anton Eger is deservedly recognized for his brilliant work with Phronesis. The acclaimed trio has put a very distinctive mark on re-thinking the standard piano jazz trio since the early 2010s: a wild mixture of math-driven rhythmic structures mixed with a stark, yet ebullient, use of melodies. The three started gaining a wider exposure from the British jazz scene, which they hold many links with. Eger‘s name circulated earlier than this decade though, formerly linked with another fast-driven post bop line-up, the Swedish/Norwegian/Danish quintet JazzKamikaze. He played together with the soon to come new hero of Nordic jazz, saxophonist Marius Neset, in that same quintet, following him in solo projects. The highly acclaimed 2011 album Golden Xplosion by the young Neset reached a peak of appraisals coming from all jazz community that rarely has been seen before: thanks to the virtuoso status of the leader and the intricate playing with pianist Django Bates, but also to the powerhouse rhythmic section represented by Phronesis‘ bassist and drummer. And also People Are Machines must be mentioned among Eger‘s collaboration, in which line-up he was sided by a long time friend: double bass player Petter Eldh.
The Swedish double bass player, who is acting mainly as producer on Æ and occasionally playing bass here, is a key person in the making of the record. Equipped with a distinctive style made of scattering bursts of notes, Eldh‘s name often recurs in unexpected places. Lastly heard in the destructive trio with Kaja Draksler and Christian Lillinger on Punkt.Vr.Plastic or in Enemy‘s debut album with pianist Kit Downes, he keeps a longstanding collaboration with Django Bates, playing in his Belovèd trio. Remarkably he was also the producer behind Troyka‘s Ornithophobia, a recording featuring again Downes. This is an interesting off-radar mixture of future fusion and math rock, which has many things in common with Anton Eger‘s debut, starting from use of synth layers to declination of polyrhythmic patterns. Interestingly Petter Eldh was the ghost behind the curtain for both records.
Æ was developed in a prolonged timeframe, while the drummer was often busy with an extensive touring with Phronesis: it started nearly three years ago –Eger says. It´s a classic “I had a big change in my life”- thing that brought me to a place in life where I suddenly got a strong urge to say something as the person Anton Eger and take the band leader role. I’ve been a band member and driving force in many bands throughout the years so that´s probably the reason why it has taken me to my 38th year in life to release my debut album. Petter Eldh soon stepped in supporting Eger in the production. The drummer explains about the key role he played: I knew early on that the kind of record I wanted to release as my debut needed a producer, and I was pretty sure who that was. Petter and I are old friends from our time at the conservatory in Copenhagen where we played in numerous of bands together – and we still do. During the demoing process Anton Eger often started from bites of music, sketched ideas that were grabbed via the phone: I played him my demos at a very early stage in the process and asked him if he would be up for producing it. When that was decided I had a pretty clear picture of how this record potentially could sound like and continued composing more material accordingly. I think it’s very healthy to have a pair of ears that objectively can approach your music and find ways that you never had thought of yourself. Because of Petter’s and my long friendship, I was certain that he would be able to help me find the essence of what I wanted to express. He has developed such a unique and trademark sound in his way of producing, and become a cutting edge sound architect from the absolut top shelf of producing music. It’s been such a fun process writing these tunes over a longer period of time and collaborating with Petter. I’m really happy about how the album came out.
Computer programming software is now becoming a friendly tool for each drummer and no other type of musician such as drummers are exploring the potential untapped by virtual synths programming. This marriage between analogical and digital devices is creating interesting directions, but at times also self indulgent shows of virtuoso boredom. Anton Eger doesn’t fall in this trap having built a band capable of playing live a synthetic mixture of digital thrills, keeping very clear the level of interaction between synths and acoustic devices. I love albums -he indicates- where they’ve payed attention to the details in the production and at the same time used recorded material played by improvising musicians – all together at the same time, live in the studio. It gives it that important live element which I love. The combination of these elements have been the back bone of this release.
Early 80s synths like Polysix or Juno, those that made the success of post disco music and electro pop, are seemingly filling most of the space in the room of the album. Yet their usage is declined in an unexpected way. Do not to expect programmed basic tracks or keyboards playing by the click, but there’s always a feeling of improvisation and interaction between digital and analogic tools. A bunch fusion chords, placed on odd metrics at the start of HERb +++ gA, triggers a cascade of rhythmic modulations by Anton Eger. The main theme, a brass-like synth theme that reminds a sort of Zawinul cadence, comes back and forth during the track, marking the start and the end of loose flows of improvisations. Like in a crowded street, prominent groovy basses, oscillating synths, rippling chimes or flickering strings take the stage at turn. At each repetition, the theme gets modified and played again in a different fashion through a vortex of increasing energy. The drummer always reacts to these variations placing an impressive array of stark upbeats and hip hop derived patterns. In the middle part there’s an overlayering of synth craziness, which marks one the most interesting espisodes of the album. The band gets frenzied more and more and, during the first solo at wurlitzer by Dan Nicholls, the excitment grows even bigger. Robin Mullarkey at bass is dialoguing in a very intricate manner with Eger, until a new destructured solo by guest Phronesis‘ Ivo Neame, this time not at piano, but at Juno synth, thrusts even more the level of tension.
I love albums where they’ve payed attention to the details in the production and at the same time used recorded material played by improvising musicians
Starting from bassist Robin Mullarkey and keyboardist Dan Nicholls, the drummer created a core band playing through all the tracks, enhanced by various guests. The first has a diverse background of collaborations, spanning from musicians such as the prog rock icon Steven Wilson -providing bass on the latest To the Bone– to the fusion youngster Jacob Collier. Nicholls is a regular explorer of cross genres boundaries: IDM, improvisation and math rock are often fusing in his distinctive use of keyboards. He collaborated with such a diverse artists like Squarepusher, Arve Henriksen, Goldie and Matthew Herbert. An entry point to his skills might be -yet another exception here- the genre-defying Strobes trio. Eger was already acquainted with the two of them and found a fourth member in guitarist Matt Calvert. I’ve stumbled upon Robin and Dan in different musical settings and played with a hand full of times before. Matt and I haven’t played together before so it will be the first time ever this constellation will gather and play music together. What these guys have in common is a very strong musicality and craftmanship on their instruments. They’re brilliant each one of them.I know that we have quite a few common musical references and similar understanding on several levels in music. Before even asking them, I had these gentlemen in mind for a long time while composing the music for this album and boy am I happy that they were up for it. Matt Calvert, who is one third of the Strobes trio along with Nicholls and gained exposure with the unique sound of Three Trapped Tigers, is one of the most boundary breaking musicians in the British scene -to mention his latest electronic chamber project entitled Typewritten and released in 2018.
Sugaruzd +++ pT starts with a wicked riff by the bass, which shifts in a prog-rock way between beats in 4 and 5 -and eventually also in 9/8. Still Anton Eger creates a relaxed funk feel, while Calvert places a wicked riff that beats on a different metric pattern than the bass melody does. The relentless status of the track is even more increased by frequent breaks and unison whirlwinds: it is like listening to Frank Zappa‘s Jazz from Hell played over a Boards of Canada tune. The initial solo by guest Mathias Heise at harmonica is deliciously dancing over the hypercomplex rhythmic structure, while the second loose part is a crazy back and forth between the shredding guitar and the ’80s synth’s outbursts. A snippet made by Eger and Eldh in a sort of avant jazz improvised duo ends the song.
Æ is an eclectic genre-defying mix of electronica, hardcore contemporary beats and retro musical guilty pleasures
Each track’s coda is made by short interludes, most of them played by the two of them alone. The name of the tracks and the usage of the ‘+’ sign indicates this juxtaposition of two separate sound bites, the written tune and the often more improvised interlude. Anton Eger provides the insights about how he created those codas: it’s conceived as two tracks. There’s the main track and the interlude. The idea of having these tails on every main track came to me when I was on the plane on my way to to Petter in Berlin to finish the album. I was listening through the voice memos on my phone and realised that including these bits of history would add another side to Æ that I hadn’t thought of before. Eger plays with the electronic music practice of editing the tracks in a interesting way. This is actually no news, even in jazz: part of the success behind some Miles Davis‘ electric albums, such as In a Silent way or Bitches Brew, actually came from Teo Macero cutting and pasting parts of pre-existing -and originally longer- recorded tracks. What is, instead, interesting is finding a common thread in the resurgence of this practice among jazz musicians: not only Anton Eger, but also at drummer Makaya McCraven is making use of that procedure in the records at his own name. The majority of the interludes are built on this concept creating a contrast to the main track, but there’s also interludes that are extensions of the main tracks with or without drums -the drummer says. Before this moment I never had the intention to use it for anything. It’s simply drum grooves recorded on my phone only using the built in microphone, at various places around the world. Some of the interludes are captured live in the studio during our recording session of Æ. I like the rawness of these recordings and for me personally I get reminded of these different moments and places when listening back to the album. Similarly, the naming convention has been affected marking the making of these IDM soundbytes: the letter combinations represent either these moments, where it was recorded, who it was inspired of, who is playing on the track or what I named this specific memo at the time when I recorded it. I also think it’s aesthetically appealing to look at a row of titles where there’s a recognisable pattern in them.
The fourth track datn +++ oS is a perfect fit of two snippets mixed together. The initial lush synth chords doubled by Ivo Neame‘s mellotron get thrusted by a jazzy upbeat, while coiling guitar arpeggios are displaced in odd measures. The track follows the same destructured way on until after just more than one minute the interlude enters the stage, in a seamless transition. Petter Eldh displaces a jagged breakbeat of synth distorted chords, that saxophonist Otis Sandsjö wisely plays on to mark quirky rhytmic figures and upon which Anton Eger adds an impressive display of raw cymbal playing. This is one of the most catchy transitions in the record, marking a contrast between the previous overlayered synth structure and a cool trio improvisation. Otis Sandsjö is an important addition to the line-up, following is interesting mix of electronic backbeats and dark scattered improved he put at show on his 2018 recording Y-OTIS. The chilling opening of IOEDWLTO +++ hP is intimately sustained by Sandsjö‘s playing until a break suddenly moves the mood in a dance floor calypso. Guitar and sax interact on a throbbing and pushing rhythm, while we listen to an intricate and complex track developed over a joyous summer electro-pop hit.
Æ is a displacement of a billion forces collapsing one on each other, heading in multiple and unique directions. When you might be tempted to call it chaotic, it becomes intensely pop, when disco synths take the lead, then the drummer adds an array of incredible odd measured patterns. Nothing is ever stable, but the work is definitively unique. Pointing in a direction where others are indicating as well, at the junction between electronic, jazz, progressive and math-rock, yet it proves to be really a one of a kind -genre-defying- listening experience.
1 HERb +++ gA
2 Oxford Supernova +++ jC
3 IOEDWLTO +++ hP
4 datn +++ oS
5 Sugaruzd +++ pT
6 Monolith +++ tR
7 Severn B +++ fP
8 ?irl MIP +++ hH
9 Never Not +++ kMp
10 Sufflör +++ sB
Anton Eger – drums
Matt Calvert – guitar
Dan Nicholls – keyboards
Robin Mullarkey – electric bass
Track 1,2,3,8,10, gA, jC, hP, oS, pT, tR, fP, kMp & sB
written by Anton Eger // Petter Eldh
Track 4, 6 & 9 written by Anton Eger
Track 5 written by Anton Eger // Petter Eldh // Matt Calvert Track 7 & hH written by Anton Eger // Petter Eldh // Matt Calvert // Dan Nicholls // Robin Mullarkey
Track 10 lyrics written by Juliette Marland
Produced by Petter Eldh and Anton Eger
Executive producer Dave Stapleton