Hammer Recordings

Florian Arbenz – Drums, Percussion; Ivo Neame – Fender Rhodes, Synths; Yumi Ito – Voice; Szymon Mika – Guitar; Percy Pursglove – Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Jim Hart – Vibraphone, Marimbaphone, Glockenspiel, Percussion

It’s been almost three years since Swiss drummer Florian Arbenz started the Herculean task of recording twelve albums with twelve very different groups of musicians. ON! is the culmination of that “Conversation” project.

Arbenz said that the main goal of the ‘Conversation’ recordings was to always put musicians in a slightly unusual and exciting context. For ON! he worked with two groups of musicians who were already familiar with each other. Vocalist Yumi Ito and guitarist Szymon Mika had been playing and recording together for years. Jim Hart, a “Conversation” alumni, along with Percy Pursglove, and Ivo Neame are well-known fixtures on the UK jazz scene. Arbenz said it was risky working with two groups of musicians rather than picking single musicians. The results were well worth it.

Arbenz composed almost all of ON!. Jim Hart wrote ‘Winter Still.’ Arbenz started writing when he knew which musicians he was going to use. He said because some of the musicians knew each other so well he left them a lot of space and freedom.

‘Charles River’ was inspired by the American composer Charles Ives. Ito’s intensely delicate vocals stand out and Percy Pursglove’s improvised flugelhorn solo is a knockout. Ivo Neame’s comping on the Fender Rhodes is an attractive backdrop. Arbenz’s drumming is precise and it adds an engagingly serene dynamic.

Much of ‘Dreaming Music’ is improvised. Ito’s wordless vocals and Mika’s tranquil guitar mesmerize. Jim Hart’s vibraphone and Ito’s voice were meant for each other.

Yuri Ito can be a really dramatic singer. On ‘Flirtation’ she phrases like Marlene Dietrich. She twists and bends her vowels and squeezes out these amazing vocal lines. She is a force of nature.

If you’ve listened to all twelve of the ‘Conversations’ you’ve bumped up against ‘Freedom Jazz Dance,’ Arbenz’s signature tune. “I recorded this tune with all the different line ups. I challenged myself to see if I could play the same tune and keep it interesting.” Pursglove’s stunning trumpet playing makes this one of the best FJD versions.

’Stomp’ has Mika playing some funky rock guitar on top of Arbenz’s bluesy beat. When the rest of the band comes in there is a tempo change and the musical conversation gets intense. The blur of trumpet staccato notes is a nice addition to the joyful organized chaos.

Arbenz does not have any immediate recording plans but he is planning to tour with many of the musicians from the ‘Conversation’ series. He says that will “keep the music going and growing.”