Guitarist Torben Waldorff’s latest release Afterburn is a collection of cruising bop melodies with lively harmonies that seam the instrument layers as inlays of avant-garde improvisations are made, which the musicians spontaneously compose while living in the moment of the pieces as they respond to each other’s ideas. Though Waldorff was born in Denmark and is now resides in the Oresund Region of Malmö, Sweden, he pursued his studies at Berklee College of Music from 1984-'88, where he met saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who, along with bassist Matt Clohesy, drummer Jon Wikan, and pianist Sam Yahel, make up Waldorff’s quintet on Afterburn. Torben Waldorff’s guitar playing works to compliment the saxophone and piano themes, more so than it does to create grandstanding interludes. As a listener, you have a sense that the musicians act as a cohesive unit and no one particular instrument masts the sails entirely. Rather, everyone works together in making the band’s proverbial schooner reach its destination.
Produced by Torben Waldorff and co-produced by Maggi Olin and David Carlsson, Afterburn is a tribute to Waldorff’s grandmother, Lore Woger, who graces the CD’s cover. Waldorff tells in a press release that she "was a variety artist working venues and clubs in central Europe through the 1920’s." Her talent to improvise skits and choreography may have affected Waldorff subliminally as, like his grandmother, he is an avid fan of improvised scores. The opener "Daze" bangs out a flurry of twittering horns and jamboree piano keys in an array of combinations with the rhythm section producing intervals of hurried stomps and widely spaced flaps. The guitar parts are subdued and act as an integral part of the entire fast paced cycling, though the guitar takes a more prominent role in "JWS" and "Espresso Crescent" coating the melodies In folk-jazz cobblestones. The tunes have an upright jazz stride that allows the music to stand up straight and proud. Notes show contrasts as their flowering buds and receding lines crisscross. There are moments when the notes are not neatly stacked but stray away from each other and sprayed haphazardly as the band indulges in improvised phrasing and experimental urges. Very little is regulated in these compositions, which opens them up to liberating sensations.
The tango steps of Waldorff’s rendition of Maria Schneider’s classic piece "Choro Dancado" have sharp and fluid movements that segue into the smooth smoldering jazz nocturne of "Heimat," which dips into a buffet of reflective modulations. The twittering shutters are lightweight as the notes move like silky waves. The interlacing motifs of "Squealfish" translate into multiple babbling brooks with designs that fit into each other like a complicated jigsaw puzzle. The quintet seem to have established their own code to tell each other what to play, but the listener feels absolutely clueless as to what is going on and how the band is making this all happen. The lounging jazz orifices of "Eel Thye Deeflat" allow the instruments to deflate and roam about casually while picking up speed on the following track "Skyliner," which is scenic in it statuesque piano lines and a swing jazz vibe perched by the horns and rhythm section. The rambling bluesy horns of "Man In The Black Hat" are cushioned by lounging jazz piano sequences and drum strikes that fall into the pockets and sometimes they hit outside of them.
The compositions have minimal structures which allows the musicians to open themselves up to experimental verses and odd links in the pieces. Waldorff says in a press release about his avant-garde approach to creating music that "Some people actually get a little bit frustrated by this approach. They want to know exactly what is going on with the music. But I like to keep things open enough so that weird things can happen, where you end up with those beautiful mistakes. That’s where really exciting things happen." Afterburn takes listeners into that world where rationality slips into the subconscious mind which is called upon to make a decision with only a gut instinct for guidance. It’s like flying without a safety net and without a rule book to tell you how not to fall. It’s totally dependent on sheet instinct, very similar to Torben Waldorff’s grandmother who relied on her instincts to come up with the choreography for her performances on stage.