Der WaWaWa and Ghost Trees: An evening of jazz

By Lindsay Kosma Photos by Kurt Shackelford

March 6, 2015

The cool, melodic tone of the tenor sax commanded the room in The McColl Center on Wednesday, an unseasonably warm March evening in Charlotte. The sound, produced by Brent Bagwell, began the set and was joined soon after by Seth Nanaa on drums. This local duo, known as Ghost Trees, started the night off with a bang. Though they began with a tone reminiscent of classic jazz, the performance was anything but standard. Ghost Trees is intricately organized chaos, complicated in their tempo and rhythm. Their songs could be ascribed to as a series of novels, with plot twists and climaxes and with build and excitement. At times you could tap your foot to a steady beat set by Nanaa; at other times it was hard to find clear rhythm in their avant-garde composition.

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Brent Bagwell (Saxophone) and Seth Nanaa (Drums) of Ghost Trees photo by Kurt Shackelford

One notable piece began as Nanaa, with mallets, created a deep, jungled sound. The soothing tenor entered softly and twiddled into life. Abruptly, the music transformed into an unorthodox display, with Bagwell moving erratically as he explored and excavated every possible sound his horn could produce. And so the show went.

As Ghost Trees wrapped up their performance and prepared for the next segment of their tour in Europe, Der WaWaWa could be heard warming up their instruments.

Marco Müller (bass) and Benedikt Reising (alto saxophone) of Der WaWaWa (“vavava”)

Rico Baumann (drums) was first on stage followed closely by Marco Müller (bass) and Benedikt Reising (alto saxophone), who distributed waters to the band. The crowd quickly resumed their seats as the Swiss trio known as Der WaWaWa (“vavava”) took their places and fiddled with their instruments. Noted by critics as “One of the freshest and most agile jazz trios since Sonny Rollins forgot to give his pianist directions to the gig,” the three have been practicing together for over ten years.

Baumann, who plays worldwide and has recently been stirring up press with his electro-duo TRUE, learned drums at a young age. He has made a name for himself in various genres and organizations including the European Jazz Orchestra, Weird Bierd in Japan and Swiss hip hop, to name a few. Müller hails from Russia and is a physicist by trade. He spends his nights (and most days) traveling the world to play with musicians like Elina Duni in Switzerland or Hildegard Lernt Fliegen in China. Reising enjoys traveling the globe with musicians whose records he idolized as a child. His travels fuel his creativity and hunger. “With such a feast of delights, it is good for him to fast on mere bread and wine: Der WaWaWa.”

Der WaWaWa photo by Kurt Shackelford

The trio fell effortlessly into sync the moment they began to play their soulful, sexy sound. There was cohesiveness but also apparent individual skill which was executed flawlessly by each member of the band. Led by the complex rhythm of Baumann and Müller, the trio chugged along throwing off sparks like a trolley car in winter.

In between songs, Reising entertained with quips like “So that last song was named after Nasenmann und Ohrenfrau. Do you guys know who that is? It’s a really small dwarf, I think, who sticks to things you own. Anyway, the next song is a bit simpler, it’s called ‘Break.’”

As laughter trailed off, the music began in a solemn tone with the ever-present swinging drums. The build was slow but suddenly the band tightened and erupted into a passionate, robust sound. The saxophone wailed and the emotion in the song was clear. The band carried on for a few more tunes with a cadence that was reminiscent of the Pink Panther Theme Song. As they concluded with a lighthearted adieu, it was evident that the talented trio truly live and breathe all that is jazz.

“Jazz is there to be played, wealth is there for others to worry about.”

And boy can they play.

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