Acoustic Unit,
Acoustic Unit
(Ozella, 1998)

It's a contemporary clichˇ that music is a universal language, and as with most clichˇs, it's both a truth and an oversimplification. This came to mind recently when I received Acoustic Unit's self-titled 1998 release, complete with a set of press releases written entirely in German. Usually, I set this sort of material aside for non-existent "future reference," but this was a novelty. Fortunately, the liner notes included English, but even so, I thought briefly about some translating assistance before coming to my senses. Instead, I just played the music, then absorbed Acoustic Unit's mild and accessible take on melodic, intelligent jazz.

"La Vie" provides the appropriate opening track for Acoustic Unit, as a compact tune laced with a slight Middle Eastern feel, driven by guitar and sax. Dagobert Böhm handles acoustic and electric guitars and is the sole composer for Acoustic Unit, but all the participants have ample room to demonstrate their skills, and do so while remaining focused and free of aimless jams. Bela Lattmann takes a fine heavy bass break early in the disc, during "Big Moon -- Small Town." Böhm presents a solo acoustic take on Horace Silver's "Peace" midway through, letting his smooth guitar playing briefly shine through unadorned. Later, Tony Lakatos provides a rolling improvisational sax line for "Ode to a Rainforest Tree" as the song builds toward an almost discordian, free jazz ending. Kornel Horvath's deft hand drumming provides some solid and subtle definition to the light closer "Biker's Fun."

Varied instrumentation is well deployed throughout, as Lakatos alternates between sax and flute, while Horvath utilizes a variety of largely unspecified percussion instruments. Guest musicians also provide textural keyboards and cello on the evocative, ambient-edged "Blues Meditation," an extended tune with a crisp closing, where the main riff is briskly traded among the players to provide one of the CD's high points.

Acoustic Unit doesn't present terribly challenging jazz here, but they aim for the middle of the road and then succeed in making that mainstream territory their own. Some might find the material a bit bland, but that's more a statement of personal taste than a comment on the participants. Occasionally, Horvath's percussion sounds disconnected, with his active approach clashing slightly with the more sedate playing of his bandmates, but this may be due to the production style, and is again a minor complaint.

Music may truly be a universal language, but if so, it's in a way that confuses the usual definitions, in the same way that describing a fading sunset as a source of illumination might be both factually true and instinctively false. To this English-speaking American, Acoustic Unit's Germanic jazz loses nothing in translation, but still isn't adequately described as a language, and clearly isn't expressing the same bounded spectrum of thought as, say, Herman Hesse. Regardless of these philosophies though, the words of those still-untranslated press releases surely remain irrelevant. No matter what Acoustic Unit's story is, their music remains an enjoyable, universal exercise in tuneful jazz, and should be fully appreciated as just that.

[ by Ken Fasimpaur ]
Rambles: 25 August 2001

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