[Warren Walker played at CJW Xintiandi in late 2006 and early 2007, during which time he was loved by audiences there and at various jam sessions around town for his musicianship, creativity, passionate extended solos, and some extras! He lives in Paris. –ed]
The first release of The Kandinsky Effect, is an energetic and honest portrait of three musicians striving to find new musical territory within a very traditional setting. Seven of the nine compositions on Instant Kandinsky are originals from Warren Walker, Gael Petrina or Gauthier Garrigue. On a first listen it is clear that the group is interested in blending jazz harmony and language with the song structure and rhythms of modern rock.
The first track is a cover of Radiohead’s memorable “Airbag,” an homage to a band that many progressive jazz musicians cite as a strong influence. As with much of the album, Walker employs his effects pedal to great advantage – he plays a very faithful version of the melody and then proceeds to take an exciting and imaginative solo, showing off his strong technical abilities and dynamic awareness. On this tune in particular I liked of the use of delays and reverb with Walker’s saxophone.
“Down and Out,” an original penned by Walker and Petrina features a strong although somewhat repetitive melody. Petrina’s bass line helps round out the tune and, along with Walker’s effects pedal, adds more body to the group. The trio permutation showcased on Instant Kandinsky can be one of the most difficult settings both for a musician to perform in and for an audience to enjoy – largely because of the lack of chordal backing. However, Petrina delivers the needed harmony and sound to fill out the cavity created by the absence of a guitar or piano.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is an original from Walker and Petrina entitled “Where’s Grass Valley?” The simple melody is played over a groove in 15 and repeated many times over – creating a sort of drone in the listener’s ear. But as soon as I was lulled into the drone, I was shaken up by the trio’s unexpected change to a heavy 4/4 rock beat. The group then slowly transitions back into the original groove and Walker takes a tasty solo drenched in reverb and delay. This is definitely one of the most thematic pieces on Instant Kandinsky.
After listening to this CD two groups immediately come to mind: the American jazz collective Fly and the NYC-based jazz-rock outfit Rudder. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if The Kandinsky Effect has checked out both of these stellar groups. With Instant Kandinsky, Walker, Petrina, and Garrigue succeed on several levels, but fall short in a couple of places as well.
The group definitely has developed an individual style and produces a sound larger than their size would suggest. Many of the compositions are interesting and catchy, but many of them sound very similar. In terms of grooves and rhythms, there just wasn’t enough diversity for me. I think more experimentation with other styles and rhythms would benefit the group and expand their musical pallet. I did notice some more adventurous playing on the last track of the album – “Zelzah” an original of James Carney. In the beginning of the piece Garrigue explores textures unheard on the rest of the album, using more toms and less cymbals. Petrina and Walker also draw from more diminished sonorities that, once combined with Garrigue’s tom-heavy drumming, reminded me of middle-eastern tinged music.
With Instant Kandinsky, the trio successfully shows off their technical prowess and stellar improvisatory abilities, while revealing a few shortcomings. While one may view any shortcomings as a weaknesses, I see them as an opportunity for growth. With the high level of musicianship, it is clear this group has a lot of potential. I look forward to hearing future recordings of The Kandinsky Effect and, hopefully, their synthesis of more musical styles.
The Kandinsky Effect – Instant Kandinsky (2008)
Warren Walker – Saxophone/Effects
Gael Petrina – Upright Bass
Gauthier Garrigue – Drums
Airbag[audio: Instant Kandinsky-Airbag.mp3]
Where’s Grass Valley[audio: Instant Kandinsky-Where’s Grass Valley.mp3]
Zelzah[audio: Instant Kandinsky-Zelzah.mp3]