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Matthew Ruddick

Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Monday, 07 August 2017 04:33

Mathias Heise Quadrillion - Decadence

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Danish band with big number fixation makes strong case for guilt-free jazz-funk-fusion.

A quadrillion is a standard mathematical term to describe 10 to the power of 15.

What that has to do with jazz-funk-fusion I don’t know, but it’s the name that Danish composer Mathias Heise has given his band. It’s a talking point for sure and more inventive than ‘Trio’. Plus, very few bands start with Q. It must be a brand thing!

Mathias Heise plays the keyboards and the chromatic harmonica and is very much the band leader.

The harmonica's quite a rarity these days in jazz - certainly, in hip, cool jazz-funk circles. I can’t help listening to it without bringing to mind Michael Bentine’s Potty Time from my childhood! Yes, it’s childish, but the harmonica has such a happy, sing-song sound that it’s a knee-jerk reaction.

Getting past that, the harmonica works surprisingly well as a musical astringent, cutting through the jazz-fusion-funk sound to create something of a surprising USP, something which is incredibly important for any band seeking the cutting edge.

Heise is joined in the band by friends from the Danish music scene: Mads Christansen on guitar, David Vang on bass guitar and Aksel Stadel Borum on drums. Reassuringly Danish names all!

This sophomore album - launched at a small show in London’s Spice of Life in early July - comprises good, honest, up-beat fun music. No introspective modal tracks or classical influences here - it’s pedal to the floor, foot-tapping goodness, and unashamedly so. If the decadent life is one of excess, pleasure and damn the consequences, then Mathias Heise’s the man to provide the soundtrack.

Decadence is up-beat, up-tempo and up-and-at ‘em in its approach. It is music that emphasises entertainment over complexity, groove over archness and panache over sobriety. This ain’t Ornette Coleman, let’s say.

Don’t get me wrong: these boys can play - wonderfully - but the album and band works because I think Mathias Heise’s remembered something that many young jazz players forget. First and foremost, as a musician you’re there to entertain, and this album does that in bucketloads. It’s great live, which is always a good test.

Title track Decadence starts with a Stevie Wonder-groove, with the spikiness from Christiansen’s edgy guitar contrasting well with Heise’s soaring, sweet harmonica sound, which is shown to good effect when he solos over Vang’s bass, mid-track.

Third track Cliffhanger has a poppy, electronic heart and wants to get you tapping your foot to a disco-beat, but this is a multi-layered track with a strong uplift mid-track from Hans Ulrik’s sax playing and Heise’s piano that hides the disco ball away temporarily before Vang puts it back centre stage. Heise’s certainly bold in his readiness to stop and shift gear, mid-track.

There’s a lot on this album, including contrasting tracks like Would U with vocal guest Emilie Molsted which has a clear soul-jazz vibe in its simple refrain and shoulder-shuffling beat. 

Underneath it all lies groove, an oft forgotten element in modern jazz but when used appropriately, priceless, as the success of Snarky Puppy testifies to. The band champions their sound as FuRoJazz - Fu for future (the keyboards on eight track Man Vs. Nature, for sure), funk and fusion, Ro for Rock (especially on fifth track Escapism), and of course, Jazz.

A terrible acronym, but a great sound!

Decadence is worth checking out. Certainly, it’s not the most ground-breaking of albums, but for a fun fifty minutes of shamelessly beat-filled tunes atop a strong jazz-fusion superstructure, it’s certainly entertaining!

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