Jochen Rueckert – ‘We Make the Rules’

There is nothing wrong with Jochen Rueckert‘s new album We Make The Rules.

Rueckert is on the drums and is joined by a fantastic group of musicians – Mark Turner on sax, Matt Penman on bass, and Lage Lund on guitar – to round out his quartet.

Rueckert has been based in New York City since 1995 and has played with many of the leading voices in jazz during that time (Kurt Rosenwinkel, Sam Yahel, Will Vinson, Mark Copland, and Seamus Blake, among others), but is a relatively low-profile name despite his top-notch chops on display here.

This quartet has been together for several years and reconvened to record these songs in the studio after road-testing them and working out the kinks (in fact, Rueckert, Penman, and Turner also played on Rueckert’s 2011 album somewhere, meeting nobody, along with guitarist Brad Shepik).

All of the songs on We Make The Rules are Rueckert originals, and all of the tunes are very “contemporary jazz”, if that is a reasonable term to use, giving the album a unified feel.

Starting with the drum roll on “Eggshells”, the album’s opener, the tunes on here are mostly mid-tempo, harmonically adventurous stuff with sinewy melodies delivered by Turner’s sax.

The tempo is pushed and pulled, the chords are rearranged courtesy of Lund’s guitar voicings, Rueckert and Penman are locked together to create a solid rhythmic foundation, and the improvisation is fresh throughout the album.

All four members of of the band cohere to make this sound come together, and despite the band leader being perhaps the lowest-profile musician on the record, the tunes on here will almost certainly appeal to fans of these artists’ work elsewhere.

This isn’t to say that there is no diversity on the record – album closer “Manong Twilight at the Whatever Hotel” is at a ballad tempo and has Turner’s sax getting a sort of buzzing tone in places, for instance, and “Bess” is similarly at a ballad tempo, but there is an overall feel of sameness on the album.

As I said to open this review, though – there is nothing wrong with the album.

This would be a nice album to have on vinyl, because anywhere the needle dropped would reveal fantastic playing and would find new interactions.

Given that it’s 2014 and the album is on shuffle on your iPod, be sure to take some time with the title track, “We Make The Rules”, featuring a catchy guitar arpeggio that opens the tune and sets the stage for what is to come– excellent mid- to up-tempo improvisation.

Jochen Rueckert Quartet, “Alloplasty” Live at Small’s, Jan. 12, 2014
(featuring Orlando LeFleming on bass in place of Matt Penman)

There is nothing about this album that doesn’t work, and it is very much recommended listening.

I would propose, however, the following experiment.

First, get yourself worked up over something.

Second, go take a walk outside and sing something like Thelonious Monk’s “Nutty” as loud as you can.

Feeling better?

Now try that same experiment with Rueckert’s “Alloplasty”.

Hmm. I find myself looking for more of a catchy melodic line to hang onto with many of the tunes on here.

This shouldn’t be a huge complaint, given the volume of jazz whose melodic line isn’t as catchy as “Nutty”, and it isn’t a huge complaint given the quality of the playing from Rueckert, Turner, Lund, and Penman on this album.

In particular, the album serves as an excellent showcase for Rueckert’s drumming, very much on par with names like Jeff Ballard or Marcus Gilmore that are perhaps better known.

Following on We Make The Rules, we can hope to see and hear more from Rueckert.

We Make The Rules is out October 14th on Whirlwind Records.

Track List:
Pretty from Afar
Saul Goodman
We Make The Rules
The Cook Strait
Yellow Bottoms
Manong Twilight at the Whatever Hotel

Jochen Rueckert Quartet Tour Dates:
(Rueckert, drums; Mark Turner, sax; Lage Lund, guitar; Chris Smith, bass)
1st October – Stadtgarten Cologne, Germany 20:30
2nd October – Leipzig, Telegraph Germany 20:30
3rd October – Jazzschmiede Duesseldorf, Germany 20:30
4th October – Karlsruhe, Germany 20:30
8th October – World of basses, Reutlingen, Germany 20:00
9th October – Pizza Express, London, U.K. 20;30
10th October – Paradox, Tilburg, Netherlands 20:30
11th October – Jazzkeller, Frankfurt, Germany