July 22, 2011
Uli Kempendorff Quartet
Jazzhaus Musik JHM 189
Mark Anderson/ Paul Dunmall/Philip Gibbs/Tony Hymas
21st Century V-Bop
SLAM CD 284
Quartet combinations with saxophone, guitar and drums often negotiate the boundaries separating Jazz-Rock and Jazz-Improv. The German and British ensembles featured here negotiate opposite sides of the divide precisely because of each combo’s fourth member. With resilient pressures from Marc Muellbauer’s double bass, the band of reedist Uli Kempendorff, drummer Kay Lübke and guitarist Ronny Graupe works in Jazz-Improv conception. Meanwhile the intricate, somewhat spacey lines from Tony Hymas’ keyboards encourage Jazz-Rock invention from saxophonist Paul Dunmall, guitarist Philip Gibbs and drummer Mark Anderson.
There’s some irony implicit in these session designations, though. In other situations, often with Gibbs affiliated, Dunmall plays fiery Free Jazz. Meanwhile Graupe’s most frequent gig is with the Berlin-based Hyperactive Kid trio, which is as apt to call on Rock rhythms as Jazz elaborations.
Kempendorff, Louise’s leader, is another Berliner whose experience ranges from theatre, film and cabaret – the last with Canadian Aboriginal playwright/pianist Tomson Highway – teaching music, plus gigs with likes of pianist Ulrich Gumpert Workshop band. His academic and theatrical background is put in bold relief during his woody, near-Klezmer clarinet extensions on this CD’s “Rosen”, adapted from a composition by East German Hanns Eisler. As the clarinetist flutter-tongues, he’s backed by the guitarist’s robust, near-flamenco strums; cymbal resonation from Lübke, who has recorded with saxophonist Silke Eberhard; plus cross string scrawls, wooden body patting and below-the-bridge scratches from the bassist who both teaches at the Hanns Eisler music school and leads his own nine-piece Kaleidoscope band. On the other hand, “Ringelreih” features Kempendorff’s flutter-tongued a capella exposition on tenor saxophone before the stop-time theme kicks in. Spurred by plucked bass lines and the drummer’s pops and rebounds, the saxophonist spins out lightly accented timbres which keep his solo linear even as he adds snorts and higher-pitched double tonguing.
Overall, the saxophonist’s presentation of his compositions can sound either straight-ahead or funky. The first occurs when Lübke frequently pounds his snares and smashes his cymbals as if he was Shelly Manne at a West Coast Jazz date; the latter is exposed on “Gruß an Die Aiebzinger”, where Lübke’s shuffle beat bridges slippery string pumps from Graupe and swiftly vibrating legato sax lines from Kempendorff. Overall, the most affecting aural memory from the disc is the interplay between the saxophonist and the guitarist. To wit: flutter tonguing, twisting slurs and staccato trills on the saxophonist’s part are met by the guitar’s contrapuntal picking, skittering and mirrored note clusters or sprayed timbre decorations.
Similarly Gibbs’ and Dunmall’s pronounced guitar-saxophone intersection has been developed over many performances and just as many CDs recorded since before the beginning of the 21st Century. Self-taught, the Bristol-based guitarist also plays solo and with the cream of Improv players ranging from pianist Keith Tippett to drummer Hamid Drake. Meanwhile Hymas’ most high profile corresponding gigs have been with the likes of guitarist Jeff Beck and electric bassist Stanley Clarke as well as playing and composing notated music. One of a group of percussionists with homonymous or the same name, Anderson is a journeymen who has worked on both the Rock and Jazz side of the fence.
The latter two’s background may what pushes 21st Century V-Bop towards Rock, although the four are accomplished enough to eschew Pop Fusion and keep the communication lines open with free-form Improv. Dunmall in particular though, plays more linear and melodic lines than usual, especially on soprano saxophone, whose clear glissandi are the defining feature of most Fusion dates. Here, at least, when his timbres appear uncharacteristically chromatic, Gibbs is on hand to push him out of the comfort zone with resonating licks and swelling reverb. Equally pressurized knob-twisting distortions and wah-wah pedal strain from Gibbs sometimes presage additional coloration from Hymas’ church music-like keyboard chording and Anderson’s repetitive beats and clattering clunks.
Still, an inordinate number of faded endings on the CD suggest that despite the quartet’s talents, satisfying conclusions were lacking once everyone expressed his musical thoughts. Paced cadences and crescendos plus internal soundboard-clunks from the pianist; shattering cymbal breaks and paced ruffs from the drummer; and even the guitarist’s methodological and contrapuntal licks, including flanges and claw-hammer string pounding, don’t give enough shape to the proceeding.
Tellingly the most accomplished of these group instant compositions is the final one which is almost the lengthiest. Following some initial verbal mumbles and cries, “A Knight on the Tiles” takes off in a flurry of squealing reed bites, cross-handed snare pops, staccato electric piano comping and finger-picked string slides and slurs. As the keyboardist cascades high-frequency note flurries, his narrative evolves into double counterpoint, with Gibbs’ knob-twisting and slurred fingering in full pursuit. Intensifying his response, the keyboardist brings foot pedal pressure into play as he key clips and slaps. Heading for a resolution, Dunmall begins a sinuous soprano saxophone exposition with powerful double tonguing and an expansive vibrato. Eventually heavily syncopated guitar strumming and two-handed keyboard runs join the long-lined sax lines to complete the musical thoughts.
Similarly constituted in personnel, but completely different sounding CDs, both discs provide ample showcase for the band members’ multi-talents. On reflection, though, it appears that sonic cooperation is more obvious – and satisfying – on the German than the British session.
Track Listing: Louise: 1. Surcharge 2. Stuck 3. Rosen 4. Gruß an Die Aiebzinger 5. Can’t Read Your Signal 6. Aprilwetter 7. Ringelreih 8. Arresterd Development 9. Falenreich
Personnel: Louise: Uli Kempendorff (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Ronny Graupe (guitar); Marc Muellbauer (bass) and Kay Lübke (drums)
Track Listing: V-Bop: 1. The Path of Nonevitability 2. The Front 3. John’s Intelligent Ears 4. Once More into No-thing 5. Mad Dash for the Exit 6. Preyer 7. A Knight on the Tiles
Personnel: V-Bop: Paul Dunmall (tenor and soprano saxophones); Philip Gibbs (guitar); Tony Hymas (keyboards) and Mark Anderson (drums)