Trombonist Robert Bachner hails from Vienna, Austria - a city quite rightly associated with the lives and times of the great classical composers. Over the past few decades Vienna has become quite the jazz hotbed as well, thanks to the efforts of great musicians such as the iconic saxophonist Hans Koller, composer/bandleader Matthias Ruegg (leader of the Vienna Art Orchestra), pianist/composer Fritz Pauer, and trombonist/bandleader Erich Kleinschuster. While not yet a household name, Robert Bachner’s work as a soloist and composer puts him right at the top of the heap of an increasingly visible, influential, and exciting European jazz scene.
Bachner’s agile and inspired trombone has been a welcome presence in big bands such as Vienna Art Orchestra, the Upper Austrian Jazz Orchestra, and the Concert Jazz Band Vienna. Though less well-known for his work with smaller groups, Bachner’s first quintet recording (Heart Disc) was a favorite spin of mine, and Travelling Hard continues that trend. I am not alone in this regard, as Travelling Hard recently won the 2006 Hans Koller Prize - an honor given by Austrian musicians and critics to the finest home-grown jazz recording of the year.
It is easy to understand why Travelling Hard has garnered such accolades. The all-original program is dominated by aggressive, hard-swinging acoustic modern jazz, devoid of gimmicks and compromises, bristling with energy, and endowed with a sense of forward motion that sweeps the listener along. A good comparison would be the recent string of CDs by the Dave Holland Quintet, or perhaps some of the more forward-looking material on the Criss-Cross label.
Though Travelling Hard is chock full of delights, my favorites are the odd-metered barn-burner "From 4 And To 2 And," and the hard-swinging, modal title track. Drummer Christian Salfellner and bassist Uli Langthaler invest "Backup" with an urgent, almost funky 4/4 soul-jazz rhythmic feel, but the tune itself is blessed with a complex harmonic structure that Bachner and saxophonist Christian Maurer successfully exploit during their twisting, arching solos. "Sad Frank" is an mid-tempo, Monkish minor blues dedicated to the late Frank Rosolino - its straight-ahead bop feel seems to hearken back to the late 50s, when Rosolino was doing his best work.
The slower pieces - "Standard of Reference," "Public Secret," and "Early Dream" - are no less enticing. The CD-closing "Early Dream" has an off-center, unmoored feel, somewhat like a lost Carla Bley tune from the late 70s. In lieu of a standard, Bachner decided to go with his own "Standard of Reference," a waltz with a vaguely Celtic-sounding melody and a sweetly chiming piano line courtesy of Reinhard Micko. Micko’s piano solo shines on the CD’s lone ballad - "Public Secret."
If you like intelligent and creative modern jazz that swings hard and has great solos throughout, run out and get Travelling Hard.