Shane Cooper ~ Happenstance

When double bassist Shane Cooper recruited a variety of friends to participate in his new album, the collaborations were no Happenstance; the title applies more to the remarkable variety of music that results from the juxtaposition.  Billed as “South African jazz meets musique-concrète,” the album dances through fifteen “radio edits” in two twenty minute sides.  We recommend the continuous listening experience to preserve the flow and indicate just how easily one style can segue into another.

“Static” begins with Bokani Dyer’s piano, but only seconds pass before that double bass sets in.  One of Cooper’s strengths is his humility; he never dominates the sonic field.  His collaborators share the spotlight in such a manner as to seem like a band.  But the method of arrangement is hidden in the liner notes.  The album began in composition and improvisation sessions, captured on reel-to-reel.  Cooper then took the bounty to the assembly room, where he created “tiny ecosystems of sound.”  When one hears the flute, one isn’t hearing someone cuing the flutist to play; the music is already there, waiting for its seat to be assigned.  At 5:15, Daliwonga Tshangela’s cello erupts in a catchy segment whose superhero qualities seem foreordained.

While there are pauses between movements, there are few silences.  One pictures Cooper at the reel-to-reel, experimenting with what comes next.  Each segue is akin to a breath, one of the loveliest including arriving in the center of the piece as the music dissolves into the rain forest.  The uncredited birds are as much a part of the soundscape as the umtshingo, umrhubhe and nyunga-nyunga.  “Static” turns next to ambience before returning to double bass and piano.

Three percussionists are part of the picture, and in “Skins,” they get their due.  The side begins with an explosion of percussive joy, and after that, the impression is that each player is patiently waiting their turn.  While there’s no telling which musician is which, the styles are intensely different; the third minute is particularly subdued.  But then ~ BOOM!  A period of harder drums and handclaps is met by sounds from inside the mouth, a theme that will also close the release.  The sense of fun is contagious; if these musicians were outside, one would stop to hear them, because there is nothing more appealing than ebullience.  In response, Cooper finds his groove, seeming to enter a trance mid-piece in which he gives in to the rhythm and allows his notes to flow as freely as the hands and sticks on the drums. After this, a period of abstraction topples smoothly into melody, proving that often only a fine line exists between the accessible and the avant-garde.  Like “Static,” “Skin” returns to an earlier theme in the finale, improvisation transformed into composition, an aural illusion we’re happy to accept.  (Richard Allen)

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