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Like many other bands, the Austrian septet Shake Stew wanted to get the band out of the daily routine of the pandemic and into an environment where it could fully ignite the fire. Shake Stew leader and composer Lukas Kranzelbinder already composed seven pieces for the band’s fifth album «Heat», the band had a new lineup as alto sax player Astrid Wiesinger who replaced Clemens Salesny, and all musicians were eager to capture the music as soon as possible and sent out into the world. Shake Stew convened in the Cicaleto Studio in Arezzo, in Tuscany, Italy, with its musicians traveling up to 18 hours by various trains to keep the ecological footprint as small as possible. The intense and uplifting energy and joy of playing during these studio sessions can be sensed on «Heat».

«Heat» is the most diverse album of Shake Stew to date. This band always relied on hypnotic and infectious Afrobeat grooves made by the two bassists – Kranzelbinder and Oliver Potratz, both playing double basses and electric basses, and drummers-percussionist Niki Dolp and Herbert Pirker, now adding to their arsenal Guinean log drums, plus the horn section of trumpeter Mario Rom, Wiesinger who also plays the bass clarinet, and tenor sax player and flutist Johannes Schleiermacher. But on «Heat», Shake Stew goes deeper and colors its Afrobeat grooves with many more nuances.

The deceptive simple melody of the opening, peaceful «Unmight» cements the new phase of Shake Stew. Rom, Wiesinger on bass clarinet, and Schleiermacher introduce the catchy theme, and the rhythm section builds patiently the hypnotic groove, layer by layer until the Moroccan chaabi-inspired finale. «I Am The Bad Wolf», with its repetitive groove carpet and overlapping horn lines, demonstrates again Shake Stew’s delicate abstraction of its Afrobeat influences. The drum-less and lyrical «I Wear My Heart On The Outside», with a beautiful solo of Wiesinger who sings the fugue-like theme and later converse with Rom, tells a touching story.

The title piece stresses how Shake Stew cooks its very own stew out of African musical traditions, as the two drummers Dolp and Pinker play on the Guinean log drums, who play an important role in West African Jùjú music, and Kranzelbinder plays the Moroccan bass lute, the guembri. This uplifting and energetic piece with its percolating rhythmic patterns pays its respect to the music of Joe Zawinul (who was born in the same district of Vienna as Kranzelbinder) and Archie Shepp (and his iconic album «The Magic of Ju-Ju», Impulse!, 1967). «Lucidity» takes a completely different course, and this meditative piece suggests hallucinogenic sound worlds, building upon the detailed bass work of Kranzelbinder and Potratz.

«Wake Up and Be Gone» takes Shake Stew blends gently sensual Ethiopian tezeta ballad with southern European melancholia and dances over driving groove. «Heat» ends with the album’s opus magnum, the atmospheric and jubilant «Oh Captain, My Captain!» (referring to Walt Whitman’s poem written about the death of American president Abraham Lincoln), with the two double basses articulating the melody and anchoring the rhythmic commotion while Schleiermacher’s flute, Rom’s muted trumpet and Wiesinger’s alto sax cook the mysterious and seductive theme until Wiesinger leads all to the ecstatic coda. A beautiful conclusion to another impressive stew of Shake Stew.

Eyal Hareuveni  

Lukas Kranzelbinder (b, el.b, guembri, perc), Astrid Wiesinger (as, bcl), Mario Rom (tp), Johannes Schleiermacher (ts, fl), Oliver Potratz (b, el.b, Fender Bass VI), Nikolaus Dolp (dr, log dr, perc), Herbert Pirker (dr, log dr, perc)

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