Michael Janisch and his ‘insanely powerful sextet’

THE sleeve image of bassist Michael Janisch’s new double album, Paradigm Shift, is a high-speed photograph of a bursting bubble, a shimmering, translucent globe midway through shattering into myriad droplets.

London-based American bassist Michael Janisch. Picture: Contributed
London-based American bassist Michael Janisch. Picture: Contributed

And if the term “paradigm shift” tends to suggest a major overturning of assumptions and conventions the bubble which concerns the London-based American-born musician is the one we have to get out of and take a broader view, politically and globally as well as musically.

The album is based on a live recording he made with his band at Soho’s Pizza Express Jazz Club, including the titular Paradigm Shift Suite which, having released it on his own Whirlwind label, he brings to Scotland next week with a specially assembled sextet. They’ll perform in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Shetland, and the two gigs in Glasgow’s Stereo venue this Monday and Tuesday involve a “Whirlwind Mini-Fest”, also featuring bands led by some of the Scottish jazz names on his label – saxophonists Konrad Wiszniewski and Rachael Cohen, trumpeter Ryan Quigley and pianist Tom Gibbs.

The recording, with band members including Paul Booth on saxophone, flute and didgeridoo, trumpeter Jason Palmer, Leonardo Genovese on piano and keyboards and drummer Colin Stranahan, is an expansive and ceaselessly shifting affair, ranging through muscular ensemble playing and horn statements punctuated by solo electric or double bass interludes over a susurrus of electronics. The title, Janisch explains, is not some pretentious claim to be revolutionising music, although it is about him getting outside his own bubble, musically speaking as well as in terms of a broader world view.

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    The development period of the music saw the global economic crash, while on a personal level he became the father of two daughters and his older brother, Joseph, died suddenly. “So there was a lot of personal growth since I started writing the music. It’s all about waking up and getting outside your bubble and really seeing what’s going on in the world.”

    The album, he adds, “goes all over the place. I don’t want to be beholden to any kind of style. The suite is a sort of reflection of where my head’s at with different rhythms and harmonies and trying to push both, but at the same time having an underlying pulse that’s very important to me – music that grooves, let’s say.”

    Conflicting commitments have meant that the current touring band has Cédric Henriot on piano and keyboards and Jason Yarde’s soprano sax substituting for Jason Palmer’s trumpet, while Alex Bonney, who was responsible for the live and post-production electronics on the album, steps in with cornet as well as laptop. “Jason [Yarde] has brought his own thing to it and I really like the sound of the soprano sax with the tenor,” while Bonney he describes as “the wild card ... when he doesn’t have to be messing with his computer and laptops he can dip in on some of the solos and heads.”

    The result, he reckons, is an even more dynamic soundscape with an almost cinematic quality: “It’s just another dimension and part of this whole paradigm shift idea. It’s an insanely powerful sextet. I wanted, sonically, to take [my music] to a new place and this is definitely what’s happening.”

    The Scottish leg of a lengthy UK tour sees them play Edinburgh’s Jazz bar on Wednesday, Aberdeen’s Blue Lamp on 1 October, as well as three Shetland gigs, before returning to play the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, on 5 October. Before that, however, this Monday and Tuesday they host the Whirlwind Mini-Fest at Glasgow’s Stereo, joined on Monday by Wiszniewski and Cohen’s quartets and on Tuesday by Quigley and Gibbs’s outfits.

    Janisch established the Whirlwind label five years ago to launch his debut solo album, Purpose Built, since when it has become a significant presence on the UK jazz scene. Ask Janisch whether there is a ‘Whirlwind sound’ and he points to two factors: “It’s all over the place stylistically, but there are two threads. One is that improvisation is an important factor in all of the music. The second is that I oversee the mixing and matching aspects, even though we use a few different people for that. I think the quality of sound and also the fact that the bands I choose have a gel between the instruments and the way they play them has a certain power to it.

    “Sound – to me and to the label – is very important.”