December 22, 2009
Some Of The Things We Could Be
Berlin-based guitarist Torsten Papenheim certainly doesn’t lack self-confidence.
Although quite young by improvised music standards – he’s 29 – the Göttingen-born, Berlin-based guitarist and tape manipulator is audacious enough to offer a dozen different slices of his musical thoughts here, featuring different personnel on almost ever track. He doesn’t even play on two of them. The result, valuable as Papenheim’s sonic C.V. and memorable in spots, makes you wish he had dug into some of the themes more extensively. After all, every track was composed, arranged and co-produced by Papenheim.
Member of bands such as rant with drummer Merle Bennett, who plays on a couple of tracks here, Papenheim’s most appealing soloing – as guitarist, banjoist and pianist – appears when he’s embedded in a sympathetic aggregation. “Kargo” for instance, is dependent on his repeated piano cadenzas and guitar clanking scene-setting of the piece which lurches from acoustic semi-march to a pulsated electronic interlude. Impressive as well are the burbling rubato stutters from trombonist Matthias Müller, who is present on five tracks.
The boneman’s own versatility is confirmed with the final “All the songs you sing” where his layered capillary slurs coalesce so that he single-handedly becomes an entire trombone section. Exposing counter tones and partials as well as the root notes, Müller’s echoing timbres are properly framed by Bennet’s rattling and snapping percussion beats, processional piano chording and smeared organ-like pulsations from Papenheim’s tape manipulation.
This electronic interface can sometimes turn overbearing however as when the flanged and blurry undertow on “a.k.a. you, for example” eventually subsumes the adagio melody knit together by Papenheim’s chromatic guitar runs, pumping accordion ostinato from Ute Völker, Derek Shirley’s thumping bass pedal point and producer Dave Bennett’s moderato clarinet trills.
Tripling the strings gives a boost to “Mitscherlichs Zoo” with Papenheim, Dave Bennett – on guitar this time – bassist Clayton Thomas, trumpeter Roland Spieth and drummer Christian Marien. Yet the guitar fuzz tones, claw-hammer banjo licks and shuffle beats from the drummer don’t really mesh with muted trumpet lines. Eventually, Spieth’s arching grace notes are so divorced from what the others are playing, that it seems that real musical resolution comes via the next track. It’s solely a duet between his trumpet and Gerhard Uebele's piano.
Even Papenheim’s two solos present disparate view of the musician. “Bruxelles pianno (sic) lessons” makes the title appear less than ironic. With contrapuntal pulses created by his guitar playing and tape manipulation cutting into one another’s sonic timbres, the hesitant keyboard chording is almost lost within the undertow of captured murmuring voices and no match for the vibrating, metallic kora-like notes plucked from the guitar. On “Nocturne vier” as well, his piano playing seems impervious to the splayed banjo strokes, with all the emotion – and professionalism – arising form restrained guitar strums.
Taken in small doses there is much to admire on Some Of The Things We Could Be. But now that Papenheim has proved his versatility by showing some of things he could be or do, perhaps more appropriately he can choose the few he feels he does best and concentrate on them. It will be interesting to hear his follow-up to this CD.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Introducing selected characters & tones@*+^~`2. Harry S. Truman+| 3. Bruxelles pianno lessons 4. a.k.a. you, for example@$! 5. MülheimAnDerRuhr+ 6. Nocturne drei^ 7. Special teeth profiles shifting^~% 8. Mitscherlichs Zoo@*%9. The uses of literature*=10. Nocturne vier 11. Kargo+~| 12. All the songs you sing+|
Personnel: Roland Spieth (trumpet)*; Matthias Müller (trombone)+; Michael Thieke (alto saxophones)^; Christian Biegai (alto saxophone or bass clarinet)~; Gerhard Uebele (piano)=; Ute Völker (accordion)$; Torsten Papenheim (guitar, banjo and piano)[all tracks but 6,9]; Dave Bennett (guitar and clarinet)@; Clayton Thomas% or Derek Shirley! or Axel Haller` (bass); Christian Marien% or Merle Bennett|(drums)