Voyagers is the latest offering from the Michaela Rabitsch and Robert Pawlik Quartet and might best be described as global smooth jazz with an eastern European riff. This incredibly diverse 4tet picks and chooses the best parts of all music they hear during their global travels and incorporate these sonic fragments into a totally unique if not incredibly refreshing hybrid of music that actually sidesteps strict categorization and that is a beautiful thing. Michaela Rabitsch handles the vocal duties along with being what would be referred to as a first call trumpet player here in the U.S. while Robert Pawlik might best be described as a smooth jazz Al Di Meola. Joe Abentung is on double bass while Dusan Novakov rounds out the rhythm section on drums and percussion. There is a strong world music under current here but while most groups that take a similar approach wind up with a stiff and fragmented style attempting to force a hybrid that may or may not be there, Rabitsch and Pawlik allow the music to come to them for a most eclectic yet contemporary approach that has a delightful ebb and flow. Other world influences here are from Spain, Bulgaria, and Cuba.
The potential commercial viability of this ensemble is undeniable while playing such incredibly diverse tunes such as "Varna" with a decidedly eastern European sound and dedicated to a special friend in Bulgaria. "Unique" is funk infused tune which could easily make some noise on the American contemporary charts. "Unique" may best be thought of as a Burt Bacharach arrangement that hooks up with a George Benson sound. When noticing several vocal cuts some preconceived doubts began creeping into my head before the first spin. Any good critic would admit the two worst things that can happen to a review are preconceived notions and running out of coffee midstream. Rabitsch vocals are silky smooth. The only tune I could have possibly done without was "Money." While "Money is by no means a "bad" tune, I simply hold a polar opposite view on this somewhat volatile political/social issue and of course this is the risk any artist runs when addressing these topics. Rabitsch is that rare artist that can both play and sing at an incredibly high level. Pawlik on guitar is essentially George Benson first blood part two but with the technical proficiency and solid harmonic footing as to handle the various global genres with Al Di Meola like fluidity. Musical frames of reference are often unfair but given the nature of this release and country of origin of the artists, think of this as a sonic landmark to get you started. "Seven Ways To Fez" is Arabian flavored imagery that is hard driving but never losing a harmonic sense of direction or lyrical purpose. "Walk In The Sun" is that bright and breezy contemporary jazz vibe that borders on a harder swing then one would normally find on the smoother side of the jazz street.
This quartet has been going full throttle for fifteen years now. Voyagers has just about everything one could ask for in a contemporary release with flavor off the charts, a smoking hot band, and rock solid tunes. The ability to take their musical inspirations from other countries and lay down such a cohesive recording is nothing short of amazing. I have reviewed other groups that have made a similar attempt at a more global oriented contemporary jazz sound with the only viable use being for those that do not respond well to traditional sedation. Technically proficient and artistically gifted but perhaps most importantly...Voyagers is incredibly entertaining!
Tracks: Seven Ways To Fez; Varna; Unique; The Long Road; Serbian Rhapsody; Walk In The Sun; Malaga; Round Midnight; Money; Cienfuegos.
Personnel: Michaela Rabitsch: vocals, trumpet, flugelhorn; Robert Pawlik: guitar; Joe Abentung: double bass; Dusan Novakov: drums, percussion.
A previous taste of Rabitsch and Pawlike via You Tube.