Henrik Walsdorff

Jazzwerkstatt JW 081

By Ken Waxman

Part of the creative ferment that makes up Berlin’s lively jazz scene, alto saxophonist Henrik Walsdorff gigs with bands big and small, including SoKo Steidle, The Real Latinos, LAX, pianist Uli Gumpert’s octet and the Globe Unity Orchestra. Trio is particularly impressive however, since it captures nearly 63½ minutes of intuitive improvising exactly as played one day by the saxophonist, bassist Jonas Westergaard and drummer Christian Lillinger. Despite its length, tempo and pitch changes ensure that the interaction is constantly stimulating.

Ranging from raucous to restrained, the themes are as often chromatic as contrapuntal. Carefully connected, at points the lines accelerate or slow down so subtlety that the trio is involved with new improvisations almost before the realization that the beat has changed sinks in. Possessing a sharp, staccato tone Walsdorff’s mercurial solos often echo later period Art Pepper as well as the expected Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy influences. That means he’s equally comfortable outputting near-boppish harmonies as detonating strident chirps or emphasized split tones. For his part Lillinger – one-third of the Hyperactive Kid trio – varies his accompaniment accordingly, with press rolls, ratamacues and thick rebounds prominent at some points; and with cross-handed pops and rim shots elsewhere. Meanwhile, where needed, Westergaard deals with concentrated strumming or traditional walking. At the same time, his high-pitched, near-the-scroll plucks break up the time, helping to creative inventive dissonance further projected by the drummer’s rim rasps and opposite sticking plus Walsdorff’s pressurized slurs and glottal punctuation.

With the session captured in real time, the trio reaches a climax on the concluding “Stück 4”. A cornucopia of bell-shaking, thumping backbeats, banjo-like string strokes and pitch-sliding reed tones, the ending is defined when the saxophonist puts aside multiphonics and tongue-fluttering, for narrowed trills and an eventual fade.

On evidence provided by discs like this, is it any wonder that Berlin’s jazz scene is burgeoning and healthy, almost challenging New York in the sheer number of inventive players?


Tracks: Stück 1; Stück 2; Stück 3; Stück 4

Personnel: Henrik Walsdorff: alto saxophone; Jonas Westergaad: bass; Christian Lillinger: drums

— For All About Jazz New York November 2010