‘Mein Beethoven’ – Dieter Ilg

DieterIig

BEETHOVEN AND JAZZ… I sense the classical purists cringing… and maybe the jazz purists squirming. Preconceived thoughts based on the dated ’70s pop-classic era of Waldo de los Rios and James Last, or Jacques Loussier’s fairly literal jazz trio interpretations of J S Bach, possibly spring to mind when such crossover projects are birthed.

But double bassist Dieter Ilg and his colleagues approach their piano trio extemporisations on the incalculably revered works of Ludwig van Beethoven in a less conspicuous manner (having taken on both Wagner and Verdi in previous releases). Describing his 18thC German compatriot as “undoubtedly one of the great improvisers of Europe’s music history, approaching everything with passion, imagination and the will to create something new”, Ilg seeks to embody that spirit of invention in thirteen pieces for bass, piano (Rainer Böhm) and drums (Patrice Héral).

Some selections are more familiar than others, but even the recognisable phrases of Pathétique and Moonlight sonatas break away from their moorings sufficiently to flow into new, undiscovered rivulets. In Ode, the life-affirming stature of the final movement of the 9th Symphony (famously the ‘Ode to Joy’) is translated into serene impressionism, Böhm’s lush piano chords painting steadfastness from a different viewpoint. There’s drama, too, as Sturm (Klaviersonate no. 17, op. 31) broods and then vigorously swirls to Böhm’s rapid runs, Ilg’s rasping bass and Héral’s drum solidity; and it’s entrancing to hear how the trio reinterpret the string quartet tension of the Grosse Fuge (op. 133) into a greatly improvised work, Fuge, which maintains reference to the master’s compositional characteristics.

Illustrating clearly the intentions of this project, an audacious adaptation of the Arietta from final Piano Sonata no. 32 (op. 111) takes its usual solemnity off into unpredictable territory; Böhm’s deft chromaticism here rolls freely over the turbulence of bass and drums – and whilst such a transformation may sound crass, it creates a perfectly plausible jazz trio number which respects its origins (in Dieter’s words – my Beethoven). Ilg’s bass technique is strong and supple, ranging from the bluesy pliancy displayed in 109 to his rapidity in the Allegro from the Pathétique sonata (this, a particularly demanding number which demonstrates the remarkable unity of these slick musicians).

Listen again to Alfred Brendel, Daniel Barenboim or Paul Lewis (the majority of Ilg’s creations, here, are based on the piano sonatas) and it’s incomprehensible, of course, that the beauty and majesty of Beethoven’s sublime works could ever be surpassed. However, there’s fascination to be found in these perceptive piano trio reworkings – with or without comparison to the originals – which provide an absorbing and, at times, pleasingly disorientating sound world.

Released in the UK on 2 February 2015, further information on Mein Beethoven can be found at ACT Music.

 

Dieter Ilg bass
Rainer Böhm piano
Patrice Héral drums

dieterilg.de

ACT Music – ACT 9582-2 (2015)

‘Play’ – Michele Di Toro Trio

Digipack_MDT

AS THE PURITY and subtly impish equilibrium of the sleeve art suggests, the elegant artistry displayed in this trio album, Play, from Italian pianist Michele Di Toro is undeniably breathtaking.

Di Toro’s companions on a recording mainly of originals are Milan-based double bassist Yuri Goloubev and Gallarate-born drummer Marco Zanoli. Together they magically forge delicate chamber jazz, comparable to the gracefulness and exactitude of Italian classical baroque, with Mediterranean finesse and attention to detail reminiscent of the music of Paolo Paliaga (Alboran Trio) and, at times, Stefano Bollani.

Clarity, balance and crisp technical execution are immediately discernible as the album proceeds – but, importantly, there is also the lifeblood of emotional sensitivity which undoubtedly flows through the veins of this music. Lutetia launches the ten-track sequence, characterised by a wistful, seemingly-perpetual (Escher-like) cycle of shifting minor keys which introduces Yuri Goloubev’s unmistakable, deftly cantabile bass soloing; the quickening tempo spotlights both Di Toro’s bright, Jarrett-inspired pianistic style and Marco Zanoli’s incisive, percussive brilliance. There’s a quirky charm to waltzing Ninna Nanna, with its bass harmonics, reverse-processed cymbal scrapes and an amiable development of melody (even a hint of Svensson’s e.s.t.); and the spirited bossa nova of Yuri Goloubev’s Daunted Dance prompts Di Toro and Zanoli to wallow in its unalloyed positivity.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Di Toro’s Corale declares Bachian characteristics as deep, resounding arco bass instils reverence before its exquisitely tempered animation is introduced, including the most sumptuous of melodic extemporisations from the bassist. Marco Zanoli’s Distances sustains the baroque feel (almost referencing Anna Magdalena’s Clavierbüchlein of 1725) in a gently lucid minuet which showcases the precision of each of the players; and Remembering Chopin‘s romantic mood, announced by the pianist’s deeply-felt lyricism, widens into irresistible vivacity. The reticent demeanour of Goloubev’s Joni… suits the trio well as Di Toro eloquently and chromatically paints impressive, broad canvasses of rich colour (Zanoli contributing shimmering shafts of light), whilst pressing miniature Change of Scene(ry) is punctuated with alluringly free explorations.

Very much the essence of 20th Century British classical composition, William Walton relocated in mid-life to the Italian isle of Ischia, so the arrangement of Touch Her Soft Lips and Part (from Walton’s Henry V suite) has a geographical connection here. Its aching beauty clearly finds a resonance with jazz musicians – Pete Erskine just one its interpreters (Time Being, ECM) – and this trio magically stamps it authority on it with measured, bejewelled delicacy (Sir William and Lady Susanna would, I’m sure, vehemently approve of this (to date) most perfectly realised of reinterpretations). Brief Chorale VIII – Ascension closes the album, Goloubev’s bowed variation of the earlier Corale echoing his orchestral past and confirming this trio’s unquestionably informed correlation of jazz and classical worlds.

Play is available from Abeat Records and online retailers. Discover its crystalline beauty.

Michele Di Toro piano
Yuri Goloubev double bass
Marco Zanoli drums

micheleditoro.com

Abeat Records – ABJZ 134 (2014)

‘Fracture’ – Roller Trio

RollerTrio

SHATTERING any preconceptions of ‘jazz’, Fracture presents the breakaway sound of an impressively dynamic trio who know where they want to be heading with their musical creativity. Already with a much-lauded BBC Introducing performance to their name, as well as the kudos of Mobo and Mercury Prize nominations, Roller Trio’s second album consolidates their identity with a bold, exhilarating programme acuminated from their time on the road.

Hailing from Leeds, UK, the line-up of James Mainwaring (saxophone and electronics), Luke Wynter (guitar) and Luke Reddin-Williams (drums) radiates a confident, piquant spirit throughout ten instrumental numbers, indicating an unerring ability to absorb multifarious influences and regenerate them into powerful, unpredictable environments. Variously echoing the raw guitar energy of Troyka, the electro-ambiences of Brian Eno and perhaps even a trace of the Kaiser Chiefs’ driving rock, their satisfyingly complex grooves, electronics and improvisations are intertwined with accessible (memorable, even) hooks and melodies which hold the key to its overall appeal.

Engaging from the outset, Reef Knot spins to Luke Reddin-Williams’ quite impossibly beat-skipping pulse, yet the trio hold the whole concept incredibly tight – and James Mainwaring displays the most furiously fluid tenor capabilities, often in tandem with the similarly agile fret-work of Luke Wynter. Doris continues to push and pull rhythms at will with almost ska-tinged audacity, and the gear changes and slip-timings keep it well above interesting. The brief echoic guitar mystery of Low Tide introduces an early album highlight… High Tea, buzzing with hypnotic, electronic Eastern inflections. Tenor sax and guitar share its mystical mantra, whilst Mainwaring utters beautifully pop-phrased melodies; and, again, Reddin-Williams’ high energy at the kit is extraordinary.

Blistering 2 Minutes to 12 exudes TV thriller urgency with fabulously precise stop/start phrases; and Tracer floats across a smoothly-electronic soul soundscape reminiscent of Sade/Matthewman, its gently ticking beat providing the platform for luxurious tenor improvisations. The enquiring hook of guitar-led Splinter paves the way for lyrical-then-flamboyant soprano sax (shades of Portico), the importance of melody ever-present; and the apparent post-bop jazz amiability of Mango conceals a darker central section, revealing a band who are adept at ‘turning on a sixpence’ to create that element of surprise.

Three Pea Soup summons the guitar rhythmicity of Average White Band, albeit with an edge – and, sure enough, the trio take it off into spectacularly saturated, time-sig-challenging new levels (‘hard, at times, to believe this is a trio); and finally, the improvised, slow-burning, levitational guitar/electronics atmospheres of Tightrope suggest uncertainty, with Mainwaring’s crying, falling soprano adding to the intensity.

Released on 8 December, as a debut on the band’s own Lamplight Social Records label (which, they explain, provides them with total control of their output as well as making provision for future projects), Fracture is one of 2014’s most vibrantly original trio offerings, and it’s no surprise that Roller Trio are gaining a reputation as one of Europe’s most exciting new jazz talents – take a listen.

 

James Mainwaring saxophone, electronics
Luke Wynter guitar
Luke Reddin-Williams drums

rollertrio.com

Lamplight Social Records – LSRCD001 (2014)

‘Celebrate’ – The Grip

TheGrip

The concept of the acoustic, chordless jazz ensemble is very much flourishing with the likes of Brass Mask and Trio Riot – and there’s no denying that the stripped-back immediacy of such instrumentation can be pretty compelling. So, putting respected musicians Finn Peters (alto sax and flute), Oren Marshall (tuba) and Tom Skinner (drums) together in the recording studio for a single day, following a number of successful live dates, perhaps unsurprisingly results in this strong, exuberant debut release, Celebrate.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News

 

Finn Peters alto saxophone & flute
Oren Marshall tuba
Tom Skinner drums

Slowfoot Records – SLOLP024 (2014)

‘Weltentraum Live’ – Michael Wollny Trio

WeltentraumLive

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!

Weltentraum
Weltentraum Live

 

Michael Wollny piano
Tim Lefebvre upright bass
Eric Schaefer drums

ACT Music – 8579-2 (2014)