Reed player Sha has made a name for himself over the years among fans of the Swiss “zen funk groove” school of jazz pioneered by Nik Bärtsch and Don Li among others. The full-length debut from his project Sha’s Feckel, Feckel for Lovers, is a diverse and dynamic set of heavy jazz fusion tunes. Featuring Sha on sax together with a guitar, bass, and drums trio, this group weaves huge riffs with odd grooves within engaging and thoroughly fearless compositions.
The album starts out with “A,” a 13 minute piece that gradually crescendos from somber, pensive fusion to a head-banging prog climax. Showcasing both poles of the jazz-rock spectrum in this order sets the tone for the whole record; this track is very much an escalation into the intense onslaught on the rest of the disc. That’s not to say they crank up to 11 and break off the knob here – the range of dynamics fluctuates a healthy amount throughout the album and we’re treated to a blend of styles spanning Crimsonian math rock, noisy post-metal, and expressive modern jazz. That being said, this group rocks harder than any other Sha has recorded with, which bears mentioning for anyone who might be expecting sustained groove evolution or quasi-ambient solo bass clarinet meditations. While I love that stuff too, I’m pleased to hear Sha continue in this more aggressive direction.
Those already familiar with Sha’s Feckel will recognize that all 4 tracks from their ironically named debut live album Greatest Hits also appear here. That album was produced very well and I used to find it hard to even tell that it’s live without listening carefully. These updates offer more polished production on new takes, but not much else. While it’s certainly satisfying to hear them given the proper studio treatment, at times I actually prefer the gritty quality of the live recording. In terms of amount of new material, this release is more like a long EP. Others will not mind that live versions of some tracks already exist, as they fit in seamlessly with the new ones, so I can’t really hold that against it.
Overall, this is a great album. I highly recommend it to anyone fond of jazz and/or prog rock on the heavy side. Intense yet graceful, harsh yet gentle, cerebral yet visceral, Feckel for Lovers is a subtly explosive study in contrasts with nary a dull moment.