"We play extreme stuff -- in German we call it krass," gesticulated guitarist Jan Zehrfeld upon introducing the latest lineup of his thoroughly metaljazz Euro quintet on the last date of its six-stop American tour. Extreme, yeah, but not serious -- with titles like "Fake Five" and "A Vulgar Display of Sauerkraut," Panzerballett served notice that they were neither Albert Mangelsdorff nor Necrophagist.
Zehrfeld said he'd visited L.A. a few years back and attended this eternal fusion cubbyhole some 40 times, so he had a notion of the tunage he thought would ring chimes. So the band cranked into the theme to "The Simpsons," establishing a methodology they would often repeat: Take something familiar (Brubeck, Brecker, Zappa, reggae, soccer chant), twist it around until we forgot what they were referencing, then bring it back. The krassest example: "We'd like to conquer the hearts of women with jazz," claimed Zehrfeld before subjecting the "Dirty Dancing" hit "The Time of My Life" to a thorough funk-skank-riff evisceration; when he actually got one woman chicken-necking to a 9/8 beat at one point, you could tell he was in love.
But the bulge in Zehrfeld's cargo pants was a smartphone, not a love jones; outfitted in stretched-out black T-shirts and coiffed with Supercuts functionality, these Jungherren wore their geekery with glee, gazing sweetly into each other's eyes as the two guitars (Zehrfeld and Joe Doblhofer), the sax (Alexander Von Hagke), the bass (Heiko Jung) and the drums (Sebastian Lanser) tripped tight fantastics. They chopped intricate counterpoint. They intertwined solos. They pounded three different simultaneous rhythms, daring us to sort out the time signatures. Most dramatically, the guitarists and saxists all stood in a silent row on stage right (Zehrfeld snapping photos!) while Jung and Lanser put on a stunning exhibition of funk thumb-popping and fusion slam.
It was all quite entertaining, although I enjoyed Panzerballett most at their least parodic -- when they made a credible groove out of an unlikely Middle Eastern-Jamaican meld, or when they crunched into metallic sludge. But the distinction between fun and fury wasn't one these nerdy virtuosos were interested in making. So why should we?
PHOTOS BY FUZZY BÜRQ