The martial band name is somewhat misleading: the quartet Phalanx doesn’t sound like a closed formation, but rather an open system. The relevant coordinates are jazz and something metal-avant-garde-like, hard to define. Anything can actually happen within these coordinates, and when the band speaks of “25 ideas” per composition, this is still modestly formulated.
The wealth of ideas and the beauty in Phalanx’s music come from poles which are traditionally still opposites: jazz on the one hand, rock and noise on the other. Or transferred to the instruments: the piano on the one hand, an electric guitar – distorted in many interesting ways – on the other. Jazz-rock, so to speak – but without everything that classic jazz-rock often makes so gruesome. So without narcissistic soloing around and screaking.
Instead, the three musicians around bandleader Mathieu Bech (piano) – Axel Zajac (guitar), Michael Haupt (bass) and Johannes Pfingsten (drums) – play an amalgam of jazz and avant-rock. Pieces in which elegiac piano melodies can be superseded by a free-ranging guitar without it seeming like a genre change; in which the neoclassical is disrupted by noise, and one thinks “yes, that works”. Or, to quote a track title: Jetzt merk ich’s auch (Now I notice it too).
There is a huge amount to discover in WILD, Phalanx’s debut album. Hansa starts with a catchy piano line and ends with everything in a nutshell, but only briefly touched on – where others would build a whole piece from such a melody. In the meantime the instruments circle around each other in gentle improvisation. In Köln the metal guitar screeches and the piano, within its means, pushes back, asserting a crystal-clear tonality specifying the direction, while Axel Zajac fabricates sound fragments and coruscations. In the four-part Mexico everything is fragmented within a small-scale jam, ending with a particularly beautiful part.
The connections made in Phalanx’s music are quite new in this form and only possible because the four musicians come together here from very different projects and traditions. Mathieu Bech plays improvised music with the Ausbruch Duo, and – likewise with Johannes Pfingsten on drums – in the trio Flonks, but also folk-rock with the Sem Seiffert Trio and reggae with Animo Sono. Bech is also a drummer, which influences his playing style. He often treats the piano as a rhythm instrument.
Axel Zajac plays guitar with the metal-free-jazz band Malstrom and in this context has perfected the principle of noise infusion. Bassist Michael Haupt generates something of an opposite pole, playing with the rather bright-tempered jazz trio Joern And The Michaels. And drummer Johannes Pfingsten is on the road with countless projects, including the drum’n’bass duo Wallfacer.
All of this weaves into Phalanx’s music and the results on the debut album WILD are original, something that has not been heard before: a jazz style, overflowing with melodies, which has incorporated the intensity of rock and free improvisation.