SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, German pianist Michael Wollny released outstanding jazz piano trio album Weltentraum (Dream World), taking ‘lied’ as its theme. With a new line-up – Tim Lefebvre (bass) and Eric Schaefer (drums) – the studio recording was met with critical acclaim across the international music media for its intelligent, inventive sequence of song-based interpretations, as well as its excitingly fresh, flawless delivery (AP Review here).
Wollny has been on the scene with Siggi Loch’s ACT Music label for some ten years now, garnering countless awards for his burgeoning catalogue of recordings, not least (with Weltentraum) four stars in US magazine Downbeat and a place in the Top 50 pop album charts. In March, during the trio’s 2014 Jazznights tour, Loch decided to record their gig in the Chamber Music Hall of Philharmonie Berlin; and, citing Wollny as the “creative pillar of the ACT family” who inspired him to carry on after the tragic, untimely death of Esbjörn Svensson, the performances here exude, at times, a similar spine-tingling energy and spontaneity to that of e.s.t.’s inspired double Live in Hamburg release of 2007 (ACT 6002-2).
Featuring extended development of six tracks from the studio album – along with two scintillating new works by drummer Schaefer – the whole fifty-five minute Weltentraum Live experience is excellently captured and clearly appreciated by an enthusiastic audience.
Here, the nocturnal mystery of Alban Berg’s Nacht is afforded more space for improvisatory elaboration; and Hindemith’s Rufe in der Horchenden Nacht comes alive with an enhanced, glowing timbre, Lefebvre’s fluent, rasping bass matching Wollny’s range of skittering high lines and impressionistic iridescence. Phlegma Phighter (Schaefer’s vigorous, bustling eleven minutes’ worth) is a fantastic, contrasting showcase for the trio – one minute, thunderously heavy; the next, displaying a ‘deafening tranquillity’ before blazing red hot at the invitation of the writer’s snare fanfare. These ingenious twists and turns might invite comparisons with, say, The Bad Plus or Phronesis – but Wollny is his own man, whose distinctive pianistic character very much shapes this trio; his own pop-infused When the Sleeper Wakes shines all the brighter thanks to the crackling impetus of bass and drums, which Wollny clearly responds to.
Eric Schaefer’s beautiful, contemporary reworking of Guillaume de Machaut’s 14th Century Lasse! holds the breath with Gustavsen-like reverence (no doubt the Philharmonie gathering were similarly spellbound); and Wollny’s dark-edged Engel grooves to the gruff, distorted bass of Lefebvre, leading directly to Gorilla Biscuits (now, there’s a title!), an absolute masterpiece which pushes each player to the limits, carefully synchronised but also clanging with extreme and quite physical extemporisation (triggering huge applause). To close, the trio’s delectable, almost levitational reading of Jon Brion’s charming song, Little People – quietly irresistible, and all the more wondrous in this live setting.
Released in the UK on 13 October 2014, the heights that the Michael Wollny Trio are currently scaling might pose a dilemma in choosing which of these two recent releases to own – studio or live? For the sheer magic of it all, I offer a single recommendation – BOTH!
Michael Wollny piano
Tim Lefebvre upright bass
Eric Schaefer drums
ACT Music – 8579-2 (2014)