Bassist/composer/bandleader Maxime Delporte's Toulouse-based sextet Stabat Akish are rooted in creative jazz but often abruptly shift gears and head off in unexpected stylistic directions, which made them an ideal match for the Tzadik label. After a 2009 eponymous debut on New York City's Tzadik, Delporte's outfit found a label geographically closer to home in Milan's AltrOck, an imprint also well suited to the band's stylistic mishmash. Stabat Akish's 2012 sophomore outing and AltrOck debut, Nebulos, is just as wide-ranging as their Tzadik album, and in fact, Delporte arguably casts his compositional net even wider. Nebulos leaps strongly out of the gate with its opening title track, Delporte's earthy bass joining up with the squelchy Moog of keyboardist Rémi Leclerc on a 5/4 unison vamp as saxophonists Marc Maffiolo and Ferdinand Doumerc skitter, blurt, and push the harmonic envelope, vibraphonist Guillaume Amiel adds counter-rhythmic accents, and drummer Stéphane Gratteau locks into the groove. "Nebulos" fractures at the midpoint and resumes in a frantic, funked-up tempo; staccato phrases burst in while somehow avoiding sonic collisions before a brief recap of the tune's impossibly tight opening riff ends it all with jaw-dropping precision.
After that initial salvo, the band is all over the place, with results sometimes suggesting the wacky Zappa-ish side of AltrOck rather than the variegated Zorn-ish side of Tzadik. The four-part "Sprouts" begins with vibes, baritone saxophone, and sopranino saxophone in a classically flavored adagio tempo before the sopranino cuts loose over a fragmented and then accelerating martial beat from the bass and drums. During two brief middle sections, the group pounds through a fast-paced pumping segment with near boogie-woogie piano and a spoken word bit from guest Sarah Roussel; "Sprouts" slows down and introduces lyricism during its fourth quarter before bass and drums reenter, echoing the suite's opening section and providing an overall dynamic arc. Elsewhere, Delporte and company's anything-goes approach is evidenced by guest Olivier Cussac's island-flavored lap steel guitar preceding Amiel's marimba solo over a jazzy 9/8 backing, which segues into a cartoony, circusy section with saxophone entering like a buzzing insect. Vocalist Roussel is back on "Troide," a seven-and-a-half-minute track with a hip-hop-style rhythm in which she declaims with growing agitation in several languages about a certain problem she's having; "Greed," on Stabat Akish, ably traversed similar territory with three Japanese vocalists in less than half the time, and some listeners might prefer that abbreviated approach. A mixed reaction might also greet guest Ferdinand Doumerc's out-of-nowhere R&B-flavored "crooning" that concludes "Dynamique Cassoulet." However, the brassy additions of trumpeter Nicolas Gardel and trombonist Olivier "Lapin" Sabatier on "Soft Fate" and "Fast Fate" (two exceedingly brief tracks united by their swinging rhythms and tight ensemble work at markedly different tempos) and album-closing highlight "Le Chiffre" signal a positive direction -- almost suggesting Belgium's X-Legged Sally inching closer toward the punched-up big-band incarnation of Flat Earth Society -- that Maxime Delporte and Stabat Akish might consider further emphasizing in the future. ~ Dave Lynch