Matthias Bublath’s Eight Cylinder Big Band is a jazz & funk roller coaster and a helluva lot of fun.  Although new to me, the 41-year old pianist, organist and composer has cut a number of albums, but never one of this magnitude, with a 17-piece band, most of which are horns. And I love them horns making this one of my favorite albums of 2020. In addition to the piano and keyboard, Matthias is a specialist on the Hammond B3 organ, able to play bass lines with the left hand and pedals simultaneously, and that shines throughout this album.

Matthias has performed at various festivals and events worldwide, including as the Montreux Jazz  Festival, Kora Awards (Johannesburg, South Africa), and the Kennedy Center and toured all over Japan. He got some of his educational training at Berklee and then established his chops as a freelance musician in New York City for over seven years. The genres on this album cruise from big band jazz, blues, funk and gospel to Latin American rhythms.  Takuya Kuroda, a long-time collaborator plays trumpet on three tunes including Matight Intro, Eight Cylinder and Gospel Song.

Matthias talks about his reasons for doing this album here.

“Leading my own big band was always my dream. I’ve composed a lot of music but never that much for large ensemble before this album. Being an organ player I always thought very orchestrally and I consider the Hammond B3 organ as an orchestra by itself. Now I wanted to combine its sound with a 17 piece big band in order have kind of two big bands at once, which is a huge sound. I wanted to incorporate my longtime working band into the project. We’ve been playing for almost 10 years together now with Patrick Scales (bass),  Christian Lettner (drums) and Ferdinand Kirner (guitar). We’ve made quite a few albums together over the years in various settings and it’s a really tight rhythm section. Many of the songs are written for the individual players and the horn arrangements are tailored around the rhythm section.”

Of course, prior albums were very keys-centric whereas this one highlights horn arrangements with I asked if this intentional and does it show his comfort as an composer and arranger?

“Yes, I guess it was more important to me to express myself through the compositions and arrangements on this album. But I think often the keyboard parts are crucial for the tunes: In Mr. Scales for example the saxes take over the organ part in the beginning, or in Return to the Source the whole song is based on the latin piano pattern changing between major and minor. Eight Cylinder is based on a funky left hand piano pattern. But you’re totally right, since I also conduct the band from the organ our live gigs, there are actually at times no keyboard parts at all when there’s a lot of written horn stuff.”

Let’s run down the full track by track review below:

1. Bigband Intro Joint:   Horns hit hard from first note into circular melody before some punchy organ joins in. Matthias plays the head punctuated by horns every third stanza. Immediately this gets the album into the groove and makes you want to move. There’s a nice drum solo interlude with some hard horn hits.

 

2. Matight Intro: I love the big fanfare intro leading into a dreamlike keys sequence. Muted horns join to provide an early Snarky Puppy feel. Takuya Kuroda takes a sweet trumpet solo midway trading slickly with Matthias on keys.
3. Nice Green Bo: This tune originally appeared on Matthias’ 2009 album “Voices”.  On that version, he played mostly piano and was accompanied by some great flute work.  Here, the horn melody makes me feel like cruising down the highway with a Tower of Power-like punch and a little like Jimmy Smith on B3. The bassline definitely has a Snarky Puppy feel. There is an excellent alto solo from Ulrich Wangenheim midway through. Matthias has a beautiful keys solo after that. Then the keys and a baritone sax toy with each other with the horns egging them on. It is an overall terrific arrangement.
4. Eight Cylinder: Eight Cylinder opens with a fanfare and then a bouncy horn lead themed head. It is immediately catchy. This one was originally on the 2015 Eight Cylinder album which has a similar arrangement of course with fewer horns. Early on there’s a nice tenor solo by Axel Kühn, immediately followed by an extended Takuya Kuroda solo. Matthias comes next with a terrific B3 solo reminiscent of Tower of Power’s Ebony Jam by Chester Thompson that builds to a straight up funky section before closing out back to the head.
5. Gospel Song: As expected from the title, this one is  jazzy and slower paced but nevertheless punchy tune with heavy horns at the beginning. It is followed by a strong gospel B3 section from Matthias. There are some greatly timed sequences of silence by the horns and Matthias to emphasize the church-like feel. About halfway through, Takuya Kuroda comes through with a rousing solo that could be a straight up New Orleans’ trumpet dirge. His tone is clear as a bell and the rest of the crew including Matthias follow along perfectly. It segues back to Matthias with the horns for the final big band closeout.
6. Home Cookin’: Cool opening organ riff followed by horn accents harkening back to Average White Band but with a bigger bolder sound. This is followed by some excellent guitar and horn interplay. One thing I notice about Matthias is he does not overplay his hand as he’s content to be an accompanist as well as lead.  One third through there is some excellent baritone sax soloing by Gregor Bürger. Then after some big band horns, we return to the head with Matthias leading the way. There is an unexpected time change about the 5-minute mark with some nice spacey keys work from Matthias that calls to mind some Snarky Puppy snippets. Matthias is all over this, combining multiple keys and synths teasing a short section of Earth Wind and Fire’s “Beijo (Brazilian Rhyme) that changes pace again to the head closing out.
7. Return to the Source:  The Cuban afro-beat feel with circular horn melody sets this on apart nicely.  It has a very punchy horn segue into excellent keys solo from Matthias. This leads into a nice tenor sax solo from Moritz Stahl and trumpet solo from Andreas Unterreiner. There’s alot going on here with the horn line, keys baseline plus some nice percussion work continuing with a second keys solo accompanied by trumpet. The main melody is very bouncy and catchy and builds to the full solid close out.
8. Dump the Goose:  Right off the bat this one features some cool baritone sax undertones presaging more to come. Matthias hits with some great B3 work with the horns rolling right with him. The midsection has a sweet alto solo. There’s also an excellent bluesy guitar solo in the middle with the horns hitting with a James Brown homage lick. This one has perhaps the longest and best Matthias solo just and he crushes right to end. “Dump the Goose” originally was recorded on Matthias’ Second Angle album in 2008.
9. Sad Belt:  The pace here is a little more tempered as the title suggests. This one has a nice strolling Matthias section before the trumpet led horns come back with a serenade. There’s a short trombone section near the end from from Jürgen Neudert that we hear on the album for the first time and a nice church-like organ close out by Matthias.
10. Mr. Scales: Here’s another funky big band horn section with piano interplay introduction that  grabs attention right away.  The next interplay between high and low brass is a great section. Ferdinand Kirner takes another bluesy guitar solo halfway through followed by some strong low-end horns. The bridge features the first bass solo on the album and sounds a bit like a Marcus Miller with some groovin’ organ in the background and horn punctuation. The closeout is slick with some heavy organ and horns.
11. Outro Blow: This sounds like the band in a hurry running fast out the door, just before finishing a set and maybe taking a bow right before the encore. Here a highlight is the horns egging the drum solo to go further each time before all coming together for another danceable finish like Otis Day and the Knights “Shout.”  The end is a terrific pipe organ like sound from Matthias.
12. Bolero: Bolero features a beautiful guitar intro with an afro Bossa feel. This could be a dance number right from a musical (Fred Astaire/Ginger).  Matthias plays piano with smooth like butter horns. The guitar – piano interplay is super chill. It’s a fine way to end a wonderful album.

“We play Bigband Intro Joint/Outro Blow on live gigs, to open or close the set and they feature our drummer Christian Lettner.

Nice Green Bo is the name of a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown I used to go all the time – they serve really great Peking duck, but they wanted you get out as soon as possible after you finished eating.
 
Eight Cylinder is for my old Mercedes Benz car that I used to drive back in the day – the groove reminds me of a stroking engine.
During my time in New York I played a lot of church music on Sundays and I love gospel music, so that’s what Gospel Song stands for.
On Home Cookin’  i did a lot of keyboard/synth overdubs for the solo section in my home studio – that’s why I came up with that title.
Return to The Source is Latin influenced because  I did a lot of Afro Cuban or Brazilian gigs, and I love Latin rhythms.
Mr. Scales is a homage to our bassist Patrick Scales, although the guitar is featured as well, kind of to show the string instruments.

Trumpets – Nemanja Jovanovic, Florian Jechlinger, Reinhard Greiner, Andreas Unterrainer

Saxophones – Ulrich Wangenheim, Florian Riedl, Axel Kühn, Moritz Stahl, Gregor Bürger

Trombones – Jürgen Neudert, Hans Heiner Bettinger, Erwin Gregg, Jakob Grimm

Ferdinand Kirner – Guitar
Patrick Scales – Bass
Christian Lettner –  Drums
Matthias Bublath – Hammond B3 Organ, Rhodes, Piano, Keyboards

Special Guest- Takuya Kuroda – Trumpet