Album Review: Tobias Haug, Awakening

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Swiss saxophonist Tobias Haug recently released his latest album, “Awakening,” on the German based Mons Records label. Following his 2021 journey through “Empty Streets,” Haug returns with a quintet lineup that promises a sonic transformation and expansion of his artistic horizons.

On “Awakening,” Haug invites listeners to delve into the depths of his creativity with nine original compositions, all masterfully penned by the saxophonist himself. Joining him on the album is a stellar ensemble featuring the young and highly promising trumpeter Jakob Bänsch, together with young, up coming players on the Cologne jazz scene including percussionist Renis Mendoza adding rhythmic layers to four tracks, pianist Simon Seidl, the steadfast bassist Caris Hermes, and the rhythmic anchor, drummer Felix Ambach.

Haug’s decision to shift from a quartet to a quintet format was driven by his desire to explore new musical landscapes. He explains, “After the quartet album, I was looking for a change. I no longer wanted to be a one-man horn section; I wanted another player up front that I could interact with and try out different voicings.” The choice of Jakob Bänsch was a no-brainer, as Haug had recognized his exceptional talent early on. He notes, “I love his playing so much that I knew I just wanted to form a band with him.” Pianist Simon Seidl, with his mesmerizing skills, was another natural addition to this musical journey.

While “Awakening” remains grounded in jazz tradition, Haug deftly weaves a broader spectrum of influences into his compositions. In his own words, “I think for this album, I’m drawing from a wider palette of influences, perhaps more modern. I’d been listening to a lot of other music, and I think you can hear this in these compositions.” Notably, some of these tunes draw inspiration from the works of Bela Bartok and Erik Satie, adding an intriguing layer to the album’s sonic tapestry.

The album commences with “Vibes in the Neighbourhood,” a haunting and moody track that evokes the harmonic world of Bartok. Haug’s saxophone mastery takes center stage, weaving a captivating narrative within the enigmatic musical landscape. “Samba Rumantsch,” inspired by the Eastern Alps of Switzerland, introduces a lighter Brazilian vibe, featuring Jakob Bänsch on flugelhorn and the spontaneous lyrical improvisations of special guest Renis Mendoza during his percussion solo.

“Awakening” itself is a whirlwind of energy, capturing Haug’s vibrant spirit on a good day. It begins with an awakening, slowly building momentum before diving headfirst into the bustling traffic. Haug and Bänsch engage in a thrilling chase chorus before pianist Simon Seidl takes the reins with an extended solo, leading to a wild and hectic climax. “Red Light” paints a picture of a fiery sunset, with Jakob Bänsch delivering a stunning solo that solidifies his status as a rising star on the German jazz scene. “In the Moment,” inspired by Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédies,” showcases Haug’s lyrical prowess on the alto sax, offering a contrasting ballad in the album’s narrative. “Roast” picks up the pace once again, treating the listener to a spirited minor blues.

Tobias Haug Sextet Live at the King George in Cologne.

Haug expands his instrumental arsenal on “Montalin,” introducing the flute and soprano saxophone to the mix. The track opens with a mesmerizing solo flute introduction and maintains the instrument’s prominence throughout. Haug’s sense of urgency in addressing pressing global issues shines through in “Time Runs Out,” an up-tempo swinger featuring frantic alto and impressive trumpet solos, showcasing the virtuosity of these young players. The album concludes with “Sunny Dream,” a nod to Haug’s favorite summer cocktail. This calypso-inspired tune sees Haug switching to the soprano sax, delivering a lighthearted and breezy composition. In Haug’s own words, “We hope you get some summer vibes out of it!”

With “Awakening,” Tobias Haug demonstrates his prowess as a composer, bandleader, and saxophonist. This album is a captivating journey through a diverse musical landscape. Highly Recommended.

Track Listing:
1. Vibes In The Neighbourhood | 2. Samba Rumantsch | 3. Awakening | 4. Red Light | 5. In The Moment | 6. Roast | 7. Montalin | 8. Time Runs Out | 9. Sunny Dream

Tobias Haug – saxophone, flute | Jakob Bänsch – trumpet | Simon Seidl – piano | Caris Hermes – bass | Felix Ambach – drums | Renis Mendoza – percussion

Release Date: 27 October 2023
Format: CD | Streaming
Label: Mons Records

Last modified: October 27, 2023