The contemporary sound is strong in this sparkling, eponymous debut from new European quartet Scopes, led by Austrian drummer Mathias Ruppnig and German bassist Tom Berkmann. Originally meeting up when based in New York for several years, performing there in various projects with French pianist/keyboardist Tony Tixier, they created the basis of a striking collaboration completed by acclaimed Dutch alto saxophonist Ben van Gelder.
Formed as recently as 2018, the quartet has already begun to make an impact, touring across Spain, France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Their roots in jazz tradition are evident, yet Scopes’ quest for a “sense for the pulse time” has shaped a young, sleek sound world incorporating wider influences – a melting pot of original, melodic composition and improvisation infused with textural synthscapes and liquescent sax. It’s a confidently joyous partnership, Tom Berkmann describing their band name as “a frame inside which we can be endlessly creative – a ‘musical playground’ where we are able to open up in different ways.”
The freshness of Ruppnig’s ‘Echo of Their Own Prejudices’ is a great indicator of the environments which the band inhabit, an ebullient groove underpinning van Gelder’s characteristically mellow, tumbling tones, complemented by Tixier’s portamento synth lines and rapid piano runs. Berkmann had been working on impressionistic, Ravel-like harmonies which ended up in a quite different place, reminding him of US sculptor John Chamberlain’s transformative automobile scrap metal art – hence the title of a searching piece which features his lithe bass soloing. A story by author Michael Ende provided the inspiration for gently-bobbing ‘Aquaponies’ (seahorses), a fertile under-sea world of serenity for van Gelder’s extemporizations, followed by an almost Weather Reportian sax-and-synth pairing in eager ‘Balance’.
Analogous swan-like atmospheres in ‘Whistle’ find Ruppnig providing its percussively busy undercurrent as synth auras glide over, contrasted by the seductive samba-swing of ‘Alter Ego’. Berkmann’s reflective ‘Lakeview’ (apartments in Brooklyn where he once lived, and apparently favored by musicians) eases back, though there’s always a sprightly angle to the quartet’s explorations, heard too after the initial, dreamy spaciousness of ‘Nostalgia’. And airy ‘Mode’ – after guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s advice to the guys on entering new musical situations: “Just get into the mode” – affirms this band’s focused, evolutionary approach to their sound.
“I’m interested in how people ‘hear’ music – what happens in their head when they listen to it”, discloses Tom Berkmann. “I was once told by someone at a gig, ‘What I love so much about jazz is that, even though there can be a lot of information communicated, so many thoughts and associations pop up that you wouldn’t usually think about.’ For me, as a musician, that’s a good thing; and I hope that Scopes has that effect – for listeners to zone out.”
"Infused with a refreshing collectivity."
★★★★ DownBeat Magazine
"Judging by this excellent first album, the band could well have the makings of the epithet "international super group."
★★★★ All About Jazz
"An excellent debut offering from Scopes. The music combines accessibility with adventurousness, the strong focus on melody enhanced by rhythmic inventiveness and imaginative soloing."
★★★★ The Jazz Mann
"Most enjoyable and satisfying."
Bebop Spoken Here
Whirlwind Recordings is a musician-owned and operated, London-based indie that has released an eclectic catalogue of over 110 albums since its inception in 2010. The label provides a platform for showcasing adventurous & visceral music that spans genres, is rooted in originality and has a key emphasis on the improvised. The artists on the label range from established masters to guiding lights of their generation to undiscovered stars in the making.
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Whirlwind was founded by electric & double bassist, composer, producer and solo artist Michael Janisch