Jeppe Zeeberg: Riding on the Boogie Woogie of Life
Barefoot Records

Jazz pianist Jeppe Zeeberg (b. 1988) is a walking contradiction, an experimental traditionalist who's as committed to overturning convention as preserving it. He's that rare individual capable of dazzling the listener with avant-garde displays in one piece and then rolling out stride and boogie-woogie references in the next. On this follow-up to 2014's striking debut outing It's The Most Basic Thing You Can Do On A Boat Zeeberg applies his iconoclastic sensibility to eight new compositions, all written by him and laid down in March and April 2015. Like the debut, Riding on the Boogie Woogie of Life is effectively tailored at forty-seven minutes to a twelve-inch vinyl format, with four pieces to a side. Much like before, Zeeberg augments his piano playing with spinet, organ, and synthesizer and once again brings his doubled rhythm section—double bassists Casper Nyvang Rask and Adam Pultz Melbye and drummer-percussionists Håkon Berre and Rune Lohse—along for the ride.

The opening “A Machine You Should Have Patented” could function as a manifesto of sorts for Zeeberg's idiosyncratic brand of experimentalism. With aggressive stop-start rhythms veering far afield of anything remotely related to traditional jazz swing, the piece plays like a five-minute visit to a factory workshop when junk percussion convulsively clatters alongside the pianist's off-kilter explorations. In “Die Wahrheit,” Zeeberg and company serve up a bold, modern-day riff on Ahmad Jamal-styled rhythmning that flirts with chaos in its two-drummer attack. “In Medias Res” likewise derives a great deal of its momentum from the charge of the expanded rhythm section. Speaking of which, not every track is beefed up with two drummers; in some cases, one focuses on percussion while the other plays the standard kit, and the same applies to the bassists, too, with one sometimes bowing and the other plucking.

Depending on the piece, the musicians adopt different roles. During “Still Life With Flowers,” for instance, it's Zeeberg who hews unwaveringly to the repeated voicing of a light-speed pattern, a move that enables the others to improvise freely alongside him. Following a high-wire free-styled intro, “Riding on the Boogie Woogie of Life (Part I)” sees Zeeberg digging into variations on “Rockin' in Rhythm” as well as other deconstructions before lunging into a traditional swing episode to bring the piece home. Though much of the album's delivered at an aggressive pitch, there are a few moments of relative calm (emphasis on relative), among them “Still Life Without Flowers,” a bravura, nine-minute solo rumination whose cyclical patterns Zeeberg executes with aplomb. The closing “Riding on the Boogie Woogie of Life (Part II)” resurrects the “Rockin' in Rhythm” runs one more time, though this time as a Zeeberg solo exercise and now smeared in surface noise as if to suggest a decades-old vinyl recording rescued from someone's attic.

The compositions and group performances on Riding on the Boogie Woogie of Life are uncompromising but not alienating or off-putting. A subtle undercurrent of humour is omnipresent, and the music exudes a playfulness that enhances its accessibility. That being said, Zeeberg and company determinedly go their own way, making few if any concessions to the listener. Anyone hungry for smooth jazz, in other words, should definitely look elsewhere.

September 2015