Mahall/Dörner/Roder/Jennessen

Die Enttäuschung5
Intakt CD166

An amorphous designation at best, FreeBop is often used to characterize musicians who work in a freer idiom but haven’t completely abandoned many of the strictures of contemporary modern jazz. Berlin-based Die Enttäuschung – the Disappointment – does this and much more. As its members demonstrate on this CD, the quartet is versatile enough to meld the explorations of Free Music, the dense rhythms of Hard Bop and impressive tonal blends reminiscent of West Coast Jazz. Free Cool anyone?

More notably this package is filtered through the band’s collective tonal sensibilities, making the 14 originals presented here not only memorable, but also beholden to no other vision than their own collectively.

Besides providing the engine for the Monk’s Casino band which adds pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach to the quartet, each Enttäuschung member operates in different comfort zones elsewhere. Trumpeter Axel Dörner for instance, makes it point to stretch the boundaries of brass timbres in the company of fellow experimenters such as saxophonist John Butcher. Bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall is a valued part of other bands including Günter Adler, Soto Steidle, Vierergruppe Gschlöss and Aki Takase’s Fats Waller project. Drummer Uli Jennessen – who composed five tunes on this CD, as did Mahall – is also in the band LAX. Meanwhile bassist Jan Roder plays with the Squakk trio and the Real Latinos.

You can hear this last influence – Free Latin Jazz perhaps – in the groove Roder and Jennessen lay down on Mahall’s “Rumba Brutal”. Indicating with the title that this is no dance hall party tune, the theme is conveyed by contrapuntal horn lines, not percussion beats. With the drummer’s crisp and blunt ruffs encompassing clatter and cross-sticking, Dörner contributes plunger extensions, and Mahall’s ratcheting runs dip into the reed’s lowest register for mid-range lines which somehow suggests “Makin’ Whoopee”. The multi-tone finale finds the two horns in lockstep, attempting, it seems, to sound every note of the scale.

This blending is present throughout. Nonetheless the sonic variety available through flexible juxtapositions is most obvious on Jennessen’s “Uotenniw” – with its Hard-Bop echoes – and Dörner’s “Tinnef” – which leans towards West Coast Jazz. On the later parallelism is expressed with bass clarinet lowing and trumpet fluttering on top of Roder’s walking bass line. As the brassman’s long notes hocket and splinter into capillary extension, the reedist uses vibrated tones that offer broken-octave convergence with the trumpet line. Jennessen’s ratamacues, rebounds and rim shots simmer in the background as both horns recap the head with upended flourishes.

In contrast, “Uotenniw” rides on Art Blakey-like introductory press rolls from Jennessen and burnished grace notes from Dörner. As the trumpeter uses moderato coloration to extend the narrative, Mahall seizes the theme and re-harmonizes it more atonally and a half-step lower in pitch. While all this is going on, Roder pumps his strings and the drummer continues his rolls. Eventually the resolution involves chromatic harmonies.

As committed as they are to complete the program logically without dangling discord and inappropriate intonation, the four ensure that no one mistakes Die Enttäuschung for a junior Jazz Messengers or an updated Gerry Milligan Quartet, no matter how lyrical any composition may be or how harmonized its execution.

Most instructive is Dörner’s solo on his own “Tatächlich”. Swift, staccato and sharp, the exposition advances decisively throughout, although the composer leaves room for his own throat-clearing growls and antipodal glissandi. As Roder bows spiccato tones and Jennessen rattles and rebounds, Mahall’s connective lines suggest other partnerships like John Coltrane and Mils Davis or Eric Dolphy and Ted Curson. This is especially noticeable during an interlude of tempo cutting. First Mahall’s solo is strengthened by Dörner blowing ornamental clusters beside it, then when the trumpeter methodically smoothes out another variation, the reed man’s response is a cadenza of trills and the odd tongue slap.

Well on the road to joining earlier celebrated German exports to the improv world, Die Enttäuschung continues to defy the English translation of its name with every release.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Rocket in the Pocket 2. Tja 3. Uotenniw 4. Wiener Schnitzel 5. Salty Dog 6. For Quarts Only 7. Tinnef 8. Tu es nicht 9. Nasses Handtuch 10. Tatächlich 11. Rumba Brutal 12. Hopfen 13. Schienenersatzverkehr 14. Bruno

Personnel: Axel Dörner (trumpet); Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet); Jan Roder (bass) and Uli Jennessen (drums)