The manifesto of a title and the stark, bright red cover design suggest that the second album from highly feted jazz quartet Kairos 4tet might be direct or perhaps even aggressive. Statement Of Intent could therefore be expected to amplify the rhythmic urgency of tracks such as Russell’s Resurgence from the group’s acclaimed debut Kairos Moment.
The reality is actually more subtle than that. Bandleader Adam Waldmann’s way with an accessible and memorable melody certainly remains intact, as does the group’s preoccupation with metric cycles and shifting time signatures. To an extent therefore, Statement Of Intent offers more of what made the group exciting in the first place. Yet there also seems to be a greater degree of thoughtfulness and restraint. Arguably, the writing is more sophisticated too. Perhaps the changes that have taken place since Kairos Moment (the group has signed to Dave Stapleton’s outstanding Edition label and pianist Ivo Neame has arrived in place of Rob Barron) has resulted in something more reflective.
The opening title track serves as an excellent example. Waldmann’s spiky but folky soprano melody is immediately distinctive, but the improvisation that follows is full of unexpected tangents. The rhythm section are given ample space to demonstrate their abundant talents. Jasper Hoiby’s bass playing is both rhythmically propulsive and melodically inventive, whilst Ivo Neame is a deeply informed and expressive pianist, making as much use of space as of considered note choices in his improvisation. The solo section builds from impressionistic beginnings to a powerful, intense finish, so that when the theme is restated it assumes a stronger, more vibrant character.
The centre of the album is devoted to some of Waldmann’s strongest compositions, where his melodic sensibility shares qualities with that of Avishai Cohen or possibly even Brad Mehldau on the graceful, assured Philosophy Of Futility. As excellent as Kairos Moment was, Statement Of Intent seems more mature and less hurried. The band impresses through the quality of its interaction and empathy more than through muscular individual contributions. Both Philosophy Of Futility and the brilliantly titled Box Set Anti-Hero are rich in dynamic contrasts, at least partially created by the many variations in sound and texture from drummer Jon Scott. The whole band plays with energy, confidence and authority – but also in a streamlined manner free from superfluous clutter. The overall group sound is both disciplined and flexible.
Vocalist Emilia Martensen returns for a couple of tracks, the keening, haunting Maybe Next Year (apparently the lyrics were contributed by actor Rupert Friend) and the beautiful album closer The Calling. Her voice is understated but rich and enchanting. Like many of the grooves throughout this album, it is full of mystery and depth.
If there is an issue here, it’s that Waldmann has found such an identifiable compositional voice that, after 50 minutes or so, the listener might yearn for something that breaks the mould. Perhaps the closest to this is the delicately soulful Simple Times. For now, though, Statement Of Intent demonstrates a maturation and development in Waldmann’s accessible, engaging approach. That he surrounds himself with such a strong, supple rhythm section makes it all the more exciting.