Jazz, historically, is a shapeshifting genre. Over the decades, it took multiple shapes and guises. You have for example, the overtly experimental and theoretical styles of John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. Designed to be difficult to get through and challenging to perform, a statement to the immense talents of the musicians. You also have the pleasant, moody, and vibrant styles of Bill Evans and Miles Davis. Which is a school that favored music that is musical and approachable while retaining the notorious theoretical dimensions of the genre, thus creating music that is enjoyable by a far wider segment of the population. Other styles include the watered down and the Jazz-only-in-vibes, among others.
But where does Jazz actually lie? And what is Jazz exactly? A subjective question at best, divisive at worst. I’d personally suggest that Jazz is free. The freer the music is from the constraints of what Pop music happens to be at that certain time, the more “Jazz” it will become. To do that you might need a certain toolbox to un-pop your music. (1) Dry, alien, and biting guitar tones that snap when you dig in deep and remain crystal clear when you’re being gentle, (2) a present bass that’s mixed just right to be pronounced, and (3) drums that boom and crash and fill the entire room with their natural reverberation.
Blind Spot comes from Düsseldorf, Germany. And Frontmirror is their debut outing. A sprawling, hour-long foray that’s truly and purely Jazz. All over. From the get-go, 40 seconds into the first composition ‘Without a Choice’ you can easily tell that this is a professional product from experienced and passionate musicians. With a proud guitar that sounds as warm as it is cooperative. With zero overdubs, the guitar transforms from being a mellow, slightly overdriven twang machine to a howling monster in almost no time. With no shortage of bass solos, broken drum and hard-to-count-along beats, and colorful musical motifs that bind the sections together, this is a banger. “Been Thinking of You” borrows a page from the Miles Davis manual for (Atmospheric Jazz), with bluesy chops and a slow rhythm and a spicy guitar in place of Miles’s Infamous Trumpet.
“Frontmirror” is a gigantic piece that shows itself in 3 different frocks, Frontmirror, Frontmirror Afterthought, and Frontmirror Rethought. The first is a successful foray into the Noir Jazz style, perfectly suited to a black-and-white crime film from the 50s, with a steady riff on the upright and a steady beat that greatly serves the guitars, allowing Phillipp Wisser to go all the way from Soul to Blues to Jazz to Experimental, passing on everything in between. “Techos Inclinados” sees a shift away from the Noir in favor of the Rock. Highlights are the steady bass riffs and the gorgeous, lengthy guitar solo in the middle with its thick and creamy tone. “Not Today” is, I assume, the latter part of the humongous “Bubblegum & Not Today”. A near 13-minutes long composition of giant proportions. In its final 3 minutes is a section with a minimal, sparse beat and a masterful interplay between the melodic upright and the guitar, that’s soothing and welcoming. “Frontmirror Afterthought” and “Rethought” are relatively short experimental pieces with few things to stand out, with performances that remain on par with the remainder of the album and alien musical ideas and landscapes.
“Rusty” is the first of a trilogy that bookends that album on a fantastic note. Cowboy-inspired, with an anxious walking bass riff and a rock-solid beat and guitars that are cool and full of attitude but never noisy or abrasive. Part two is “Nachtlicht”. An ambient, comforting piece with beautiful melodies and motifs and equally beautiful performances and solos. “Waiting For Something” might be the simplest piece on here, musically, with chords that can be easily followed, and a melody that can be hummed with minimal mind contortion, along with no shortage of solos and attitude. The last two songs on here, along with “Rusty” are easily going to be the most enjoyable and easy to follow pieces for most of the listeners.
A professional, modern jazz album that’s truly novel and pure, with a great variety of styles ranging from the experimental to the easy and comforting, full of performances that are passionate and filled with intention heralds the beginning of a band full of mad talent. Blind Spot is a force that’s to be reckoned with, and they could not start their career on a better foot than right here.