Franz Koglmann

Lo-lee-ta: Music on Nabakov
Col Legno WWE 1CD 30004

Master of understated, so-called Europeanized improvisation – with a tough membrane of sonic sophistication hidden underneath the gossamer-like surface – Austrian trumpeter/flugelhornist Franz Koglmann always seeks out new challenges. This is apparently why this fine CD was created.

Koglmann is long time reader and admirer of the works of Russian-American novelist and short-story writer Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), especially the convoluted plots, left-field ideas and word-play that characterizes Nabokov’s best work. Craftily in fact – and this may provide another glimpse into the Koglmann approach – the CD is titled Lo-lee-ta, which is a skewed variation on the title of Lolita, the 1955 novel that provided the erudite author with unexpected, misdirected fame as a purveyor of erotica.

Koglmann’s compositional motifs, harmonized and deconstructed by the members of his Monoblue Quartet speak to this irony, which may also have amused Nabokov, the multilingual academic, chess master and butterfly collector. Many of the tunes are cross-pulsed in such a way that the gorgeous harmonies of British alto saxophonist and clarinetist Tony Coe and the brass man’s own heraldic notes operate in counterpoint. Meanwhile Briton Ed Renshaw’s clicking guitar line are as discursive as they are accomplished, while Austrian Peter Herbert’s bass strokes move at various times from the serenely rhythmic to col legno and sul ponticello digressions.

Adding to the freshness of the project are the six brief intermezzos involving only Koglmann and Austrian Wolfgang Mitterer, who electronically manipulates the sound of his piano and Koglmann’s flugelhorn through an echo chamber. Scattered among the lengthier tracks – which overall suggest Cool Jazz etudes – these “Herafter”s are curt index points characterized by pinched brass notes plus knife-sharp slices on the piano’s keys and strings. In a way the six can be related to the sardonically obsessive footnotes which stud Pale Fire, Nabokov’s most literary and experimental work. In essence, if your senses are lulled by the mellow sounds evidentially produced by the quartet so that you miss the sharpness underlying them, the six tracks jab you into the realization that this CD isn’t a soppy Chet Baker or Chris Botti celebration of amour.

Impressions can be deceptive after all, especially when players such as the guitarist and reedist, who often work together, mask their mercurial qualities under a sheen of professionalism. Renshaw is a perfect scene-setter, while Coe, whose background encompasses everything from Dixieland to so-called classical music, nonchalantly wafts warm clarinet timbres throughout. However, these tendencies too can be subverted, as they are on “Just half a Shade” – named for Pale Fire’s protagonist. Gradually on that track, the piece rotates from a nocturne characterized by fulsome Hawaiian-guitar-like licks from Renshaw to a tough essay of resonating asides, courtesy of Hebert’s waking and Coe’s clarinet flutter-tonguing.

Coe himself is similarly transformed from the creator of a near legato violin-like reed tone at the beginning of “Martha Dreyer”, to someone elaborating a lightly swinging alto saxophone riff by its finale. Passionate and moderato Koglmann’s rubato tones, plus trebly guitar licks and steady pulsing from the bass, impel the transformation.

Impressive too are the guitarist’s plinks and plunks that match up with throaty trumpet lines and peeping clarinet slurs on “Laura”. Named for a Nabakov heroine, the adagio echoing chords impel the performance into film noir soundtrack territory, in the process almost becoming a kissing cousin to composer David Raskin’s own “Laura”.

Furthermore, pregnant pauses often characterize the multiple interpretations available for the tunes in this quartet recital. “Vadim Vadimovich N.” for instance, redefines itself mitosis-like before fading, as rappelling brass puffs subvert the initial guitar-alto saxophone phrase-making which initially keeps the piece in early, experimental Shorty Rogers territory.

There’s nothing scandalous or prurient in this Lo-lee-ta. On the contrary, it’s a heartfelt salute from a master of musical Klangfarbenmelodie to a master who created similar multi-timbral colors with the written work.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Love Theme from Lolita 2. Hereafter #1* 3. Montreux Palace 4. Hereafter #2* 5. A Day’s Work (dedicated to Michael Turnheim) 6. Hereafter #3* 7. Ada and Van 8. Vadim Vadimovich N. 9. Hereafter #4* 10. Laura 11. Hereafter #5* 12. Just half a Shade 13. Hereafter #6* 14. Martha Dreyer

Personnel: Franz Koglmann (trumpet and flugelhorn); Tony Coe (alto saxophone and clarinet); Wolfgang Mitterer (piano and electronics)*; Ed Renshaw (guitar) and Peter Herbert (bass)