Erdenebaatar is not only a talented musician composer and arranger, but she’s a very capable band leader too – this is a tight, cohesive unit.

Motéma Music MTM0415

Shuteen Erdenebaatar (piano); Anton Mangold (soprano sax, alto sax, flute); Nils Kugelmann (bass); Valentin Renner (drums)

Recorded Realistic Sound Studio, Munich, Germany 27-28 December 2021

It’s very easy to think that the best days for jazz belong firmly in the past: most of the jazz legends are long gone; jazz venues are finding it harder to survive, and media interest in the music is often lukewarm, indifferent or non-existent. But every now and again, an artist comes along who gives you hope for the future of jazz, and Shuteen Erdenebaatar is one of them.

The twenty-five year-old pianist hails from Mongolia and has lived in Germany since 2018. In the process she has received a host of jazz prizes and awards, including a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music. She also gained a three-album record deal with Motéma Music and this is her first album. Her quartet includes three German jazz musicians: twenty-six year old drummer Valentin Renner has played with keyboardist Simon Oslender; twenty-eight year old bassist Nils Kugelmann has played with Benny Golson and the German jazz band Trio Elf, as well as leading his own trio and releasing an album. The oldie in the band is thirty-three year old reed player Anton Mangold, who has led his own quartet.

Shuteen Erdenebaatar has composed all eight songs (the album playing time is 50 minutes), written all the arrangements and produced the album. On ‘In A Time Warp,’ everyone plays the ballad with great delicacy, including Kugelmann, whose bass solo includes lots of space between notes and phrases. Erdenebaatar has a gift for melody and her playing flows like a river winding its way downstream: speeding up in places; slowing down in others. Mangold’s soprano sax sings sweetly and he solos at length near the coda. It’s a fine opening piece.

‘Ups and Downs’ is a hard-hitting number. Mangold plays soprano sax again, but this time, fast and furiously, and Renner hits the drums with some power, accompanied by a cascade of volcanic fills. Erdenebaatar’s soloing reminds me of Herbie Hancock and that is meant to be a compliment. ‘Summer Haze’ is an enchanting piece, a three-minute solo piano ballad. It’s an introspective piece, with the pianist playing delicate phrases and Bill Evans-inspired voicings. Erdenebaatar plays with superb technique and feeling – one hopes she releases a solo piano album one day.

The ballad ‘Olden Days’ has Mangold switching to alto sax and Renner playing with brushes. The tune’s dreamy, drifting sound evoked a feeling of nostalgia in this listener. The uptempo ‘An Answer From The Distant Hill’ combines folk music with jazz and is dominated by Mangold’s flute, which flutters like a bird in full flight over Renner’s highly-charged syncopated beats and Kugelmann’s 16th note runs. It’s one of the album’s highlights for me.

‘Rising Sun’ is an exciting track with some impressive call and response between piano and alto sax, and a rhythm section that keeps driving the music forward. Mangold really lets rip on this track, playing with much speed and fluidity. I’d love to hear a version of this tune with a tenor sax. The ballad ‘Sausade’ is a showcase for Kugelmann’s talents, who opens the number on arco bass and delivers a majestic solo. The closer ‘I’m Glad I Got To Know You’ highlight’s Erdenebaatar’s virtuosity,

beginning with a moving two-minute piano solo – at 1:14 she plays a gorgeous riff that’s like a ripple radiating across the water. The band joins her as it transforms into a midtempo piece, with Mangold playing alto sax and Kugelmann given another solo spot.

Erdenebaatar is not only a talented musician composer and arranger, but she’s a very capable band leader too – this is a tight, cohesive unit. One hopes the quartet stays together for some time. This is an excellent album release, and when you consider that Shuteen Erdenebaatar is still only in her mid-twenties, then there’s a lot to be optimistic about jazz’s future.