Jeppe Zeeberg: It's The Most Basic Thing You Can Do On A Boat
Barefoot Records

On his first release under his own name, young Danish pianist and composer Jeppe Zeeberg invigorates the jazz trio tradition with verve, imagination, and, as per its title, humour. A heady blend of through composition and free improvisation, It's The Most Basic Thing You Can Do On A Boat falls within the avant-garde jazz tradition but is a whole lot more accessible and fun than such a label might imply. The first thing worth noting is that Zeeberg, a member of the groups Dødens Garderobe and Bird Alert and a recent recipient of the prestigious Léone Sonning Music Award Scholarship, departs from the standard trio tradition by—shades of Ornette Coleman's Prime Time—situating his piano at the center of an expanded trio setup featuring two double bassists (Casper Nyvang Rask and Adam Pultz Melbye) and two drummers (Håkon Berre and Rune Lohse). And though the press release's claim that “(t)he entire album does not feature a single regular solo” isn't entirely true, it is accurate to say that Zeeberg's music overturns the standard theme-solos-theme structure associated with traditional jazz in favour of a high-wire and free-spirited approach.

The outfit's Prime Time-like attack is heard in its clearest form on the opening cut “Excursions,” where the drummers and bassists barrel forth until Zeeberg stops them with an abrupt flourish. The pianist exercises his imaginative chops on the piece, too, when those momentary halts are followed by brief piano and bass interjections before the stampede resumes. It's in turn arrested by an explorative improv-styled episode, the music slowly swelling in activity and growing increasingly chaotic, until a Chinese cymbal strike announces the onset of “The Best Chinese Food Eat In or Take Out,” a comparatively traditional workout whose polyrhythmic, rumba-like swing is peppered with percussive detail and a memorable piano theme. A walking bass line offers one sign of the tune's adherence to tradition, but the track's otherwise as freewheeling as traditional jazz gets. With Zeeberg's hammering chords augmented by his colleagues' volcanic attack, the aptly named “Potentially Hazardous Objects” careens violently, the players boldly flinging themselves into an uncompromising and unrelenting free jazz maelstrom, before the rollicking vignette “For Joseph Byrd” brings the side to a speedy close.

Zeeberg's audacity as a composer rears its head conspicuously on side two's title track when, cued by the drummer, the musicians, who seem to be operating at different tempi, lurch forward, slowly gaining speed, until additional cues—a bass pluck and piano sprinkle—signal the resumption of collective movement. In a move that recalls “Excursions,” the music breaks down, splintering into an improv sequence that sees Zeeberg flirting with the piano's innards and one of the others sawing wood, by the sound of it. The penultimate piece, “A Regular Guy,” spotlights the shape-shifting character of Zeeberg's music, which never stays in one spot for very long yet somehow manages to advance to the next place—which, in this case, includes old-time stride and ragtime episodes—surreptitiously. At such moments, Zeeberg sounds like the rare player who might cite Scott Joplin and Fats Waller as influences as much as Cecil Taylor. In the final analysis, the press release is correct in claiming that “Zeeberg composes using the notion that all genres may be combined as long as they are held together by a strong personal style.” Without question, It's The Most Basic Thing You Can Do On A Boat provides a compelling argument for Zeeberg as a jazz stylist guided by a very personal vision.

July 2014