Paul Austerlitz - Water Prayers For Bass Clarinet

Label: Round Whirled Records, 2018

Personnel - Paul Austerlitz: bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, tenor sax; Benito Gonzalez: piano; Santi Debriano: bass; Royal Hartigan: drums + guests Isaiah Richardson: clarinet; Rozna Zila: vocals.


Under-the-radar multi-reedist Paul Austerlitz, a studious of world music cultures, mixes the effervescence of post-bop with the folk-infused expression of traditional songs from different parts of the world, with a wider focus on Haiti and Dominican Republic. His new album, Water Prayers for Bass Clarinet, is the first installment of a trilogy called Marasa Twa, meaning vodou-jazz-merengue.

He brings traditional songs from Haiti, like the joyful, uptempo “Legba Nan Baye-a”, where he throws in merengue-inspired riffs with the similar urgency that define David Murray’s playing; the spiritually evocative “Prayer For the Primal Wind”, in which he plays the contrabass clarinet with bluesy, swinging feel; and “Lapriye Djo”, an elongated version of the latter tune’s beginning. All three songs feature Haitian singer Rozna Zila.

Rara Indivisible” is a portentous musical fusion with a raucous, Mingus-like groove and bass clarinet overlaps, blending rock wah sounds with fervent jazz resolve. This tune is revisited in “Rara Remix”, specially arranged for clarinet choir and where clarinetist Isaiah Richardson has the opportunity to demonstrate his improvisational skills, embarking on a curious dialogue with Austerlitz. He can be heard again on “Bara Suwa Yo”, a traditional Afro-Cuban piece that nods to JD Parran and whose arrangement was inspired by Bobby Sanabria.

The bandleader dedicates the hard-swinging “Padre”, a twin of Coltrane’s “Impressions” in the form, to his paternal lineage. The song features pianist Benito Gonzalez, who consolidates cascading notes and harmonic tension in his improvisation. If Austerlitz’s Coltranean side is visible here, he pays unreserved homage to his idol on “En-Art”, which reads Trane backward. It’s actually a contrafact on “Giant Steps”, whose melody is repetitively evoked.

Veteran bassist Santi Debriano, who played with a bunch of avant-jazz luminaries - from Oliver Lake to Sonny Fortune to David Murray - gives everything he has on “Oriki”, a traditional Yoruba praise song. His partner in rhythm, drummer Royal Hartigan plays exuberantly here, but refrains the pressure on “Finnish Waltz”, a traditional folk song from Finland with nimble inside/outside moves from baritone and piano. Even not rock n’ roll-inclined, this song would be a great fit for some of Aki Kaurismaki’s flicks.

Drawing from a range of influences, the clarinetist still explores “Funkay-Be-Sea”, a funk rock effort layered with synth and inspired by Jimi Hendrix’s guitar strokes. It doesn’t sound like Hendrix, though.

Highly influenced by world music, Austerlitz gives a new purpose to the bass clarinet, mounting an album that is simultaneously adventurous, evocative, and accessible.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Rara Indivisible ► 04 - Padre ► 08 - Prayer For the Primal Wind