Jorg Kaaij comes to us from Amsterdam. After several breakthrough performances there, and several breakthrough festival appearances, he now gives us his breakthrough debut release, Downtown Daze. The multi-saxophonist offers a little of everything: Latin, funk, contemporary fusion, avant-garde, and Caribbean. His first album will surely be the first of many more to come.
As a young talent, he shows surprising maturity. The record company has offered significant assistance with an all-star band. With Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar, Edwin Berg (piano), Hans Glawischnig (bass), and Carl Allen (drums), the result is top-notch. They blend well, apparently (the liner notes indicate as much) the result of detailed rehearsals. Kaaij is as much leader as player. In addition, all but one tune on the album is an original ("Deception" by Miles Davis). Through this he proves he has talents not only as leader and musician, but also as composer.
Downtown Daze begins with a contemporary jazz fusion piece, "Platina" written by Edwin Berg. Kaaij plays soprano, easily interpreting the lyrical melody. It is evident immediately that he has total command of his instrument. However, he is not afraid to sacrifice technique for expression. The interplay between and among all the band members is wonderful, especially between Kaaij and Rosenwinkel. The guitar solos after the saxophone, and it is clear that Rosenwinkel has been listening. He uses phrases, licks, and tone to complement what the saxophone has just played. It is enjoyable to hear such generosity as is supplied by the veteran guitar player on this tune and throughout the album.
What is most striking about this debut release is the maturity with which Mr. Kaaij handles himself. As well as being giving during the performance, his compositions also show his willingness to deflect the spotlight. For instance, many of the tunes have long introductions without saxophone. Similarly, very few of the tunes feature Kaaij alone playing the head, opting instead for unison lines, harmony lines, or contrapuntal lines with other instruments (particularly guitar).
Although at times slightly academic, all solos make good use of melodic themes, bop licks, and the others’ solos. "Jane Street, 2 a.m." features playful quotes and patterns on saxophone. When the pianist enters, it is a basic theme and variations. This kind of humor takes the album to another level for the listener. These kinds of allusions bring out the historic background that can communicate to the audience on a deeper level.
The most remarkable track is "Deception". It is a saxophone/bass duet. Kaaij gives a consistently good performance, again using familiar lines as well as more creative melodies; but the real treat is the bass playing supporting Kaaij on this track. It is energetic, technical, and thoroughly exciting to hear.
Jorg Kaaij, with a little luck and further support, is sure to make a name for himself in the jazz community. His playing is far above the norm, even in today’s strict standards. He carries himself as a full-grown player. In addition to having talents as a composer and musician, it is clear that he is a born leader. Downtown Daze is a testament to the future of the jazz community and music as a whole.