The Shadow Knows

Here’s the second album by the German combo Tru Cargo Service, called Schattenlos (TIGER MOON RECORDS TM 010) and featuring the same personnel – Alexander Beierbach on tenor sax, Berit Jung on double bass, Christian Marien on drums and the leader Torsten Papenheim on guitar.

The group is described on the press release as Torsten Papenheim’s Tru Cargo Service, and he composed all 12 pieces here, but the group is still a strong example of collaboration, group playing, and improvisation. Indeed all the works here recorded in December 2021 were arrived at after an extensive process of playing concerts, rehearsing, and playing in the studio; Papenheim’s idea of composition is to write only “a few measures” of sheet music, and the group provide the rest – arriving at the final form through a shared process of playing together. This may be what is understood by the term “sketched variations” for the 12 pieces here on Schattenlos. As before with the record Dear Passengers, we’re dealing with a zone of music that isn’t quite composition, nor fully improvised, and even though the end results may resemble a “cool” jazz record from Blue Note or Prestige, that genre doesn’t quite fit the bill either. If I seem to be going out of my way to avoid labelling the music of Tru Cargo Service, the group themselves are playing that way too, stalking their way through their partially-mapped-out territory with care and precision. You may sense a slightly insouciant air in the smoky and seemingly-relaxed playing, but I suspect the quartet are in fact concentrating heavily for every waking second.

Then there’s the odd title Schattenlos, which we’re told translates as “shadowless”, as if implying the music perhaps has no real substance and floats around in ghostly shroud-like form; or perhaps meaning that the lineage of the music is aspiring to be free from past forms, free from too much historical baggage, and hence casts no shadow across the genres from which it subtly borrows its ideas. I’m now having a visual brainstorm as I imagine a phantom from the twilight zone insinuating its way into our world, picking up clothes from a washing line or spiriting a cotton shirt out of my wardrobe; then wandering into a makeup room where, like Doctor Phibes, it can assemble something that looks a bit like a human face from the remnants of dead flesh and facial hair which it pastes over its skull. I say all this not to detract from the music, but to emphasise its originality and uniqueness.

A part of me is frustrated by the way that the players never seem to swing, blow, syncopate, cut loose or let rip with a fiery solo part, but that just proves that Schattenlos is not “jazz” as we know it, and we have to listen to these tones with a different pair of ears, and a different mind. Yet nor is it as bloodless and clinical as anything we heard from recent minimalist or reduced-playing improv groups. No doubt, Tru Cargo service are quietly carving out their own musical niche in the world. From 15 August 2022.

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