Hertenstein/Heberer/Badenhors/Niggenkemper

Polylemma
Red Toucan #RT 9342

TØRN

Crespect

2nd Floor 014

By Ken Waxman

Part of New York’s growing Diaspora of German musicians Brooklyn-based drummer Joe Hertenstein show his maturity as a capable performer and appealing composer on these recent sesions.

Ironically, although Hertenstein has lived in the Apple since 2007, his associates on both discs are also European. Recorded in his home town of Cologne, Crespect features two others from that city’s bubbling improv gestalt: pianist Philip Zoubek and bassist Achim Tang. Although recorded in Brooklyn, Polylemma has a similar European cast: Hertenstein, trumpeter Thomas Heberer and bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, all Germans who constitute the HNH group, and Belgian bass clarinetist Joachim Badenhorst from Antwerp.

Bookended by “Batterie” and “And Now, The Queen”, two Carla Bley tunes, TØRN’s CD offers up a balanced variant of the classic piano trio record with each participant contributing equally to mid-tempo swingers. Subtracting the piano and adding Badenhorst’s vamping and flutter-tongued thrusts to the mix, the other session is more dissonant and exploratory, but not to the extent that jazz’s basic pulse is lost.

Pinpointing the divergence is easy enough when you compare versions of Hertenstein’s “Crespect” on bothj CDs. Highlighting bright trumpet grace notes and woody bass clarinet lowing, staccato contrasts on Polylemma emphasize the bouncy quality of the theme. Blanace throughout balance is maintained by the composer’s military-styled rolls. Martial percussion is present on the trio variation as well, but here the piece evolves due to Zoubek’s sparkling posturing as his fingers dance over the keys. Flashing arpeggios and leaping octaves, the pianist’s theme development is perfectly balanced by thick drum rebounds plus sluicing bass lines. A final variation finds focused bass notes giving way to the pianist recapping the head.

The majority of the other tunes – either group compositions or written by Zoubek or Tang – flows mid-range and moderato to and from Bley’s defining tunes. “Weeep” for instance, a group composition, works up from medium tempo to a hard-driving swinger dependent on the pianist’s high-frequency chording, bass thumps and the drummer’s rat-tat-tats. Dealing with controlled tumult, Tang’s “Prag” is built around tambourine shakes, bass-string strums and drum paradiddles. Zoubek’s use of non-jarring key clinks here is masterful, plus languid enough as to not overpower the others’ contributions. Worth noting is that extended techniques are mostly limited to minute-or-so breaks which separate the longer pieces

These techniques receive more of a showcase on the other disc, with Badenhorst’s snorts and guffaws sharing space or contrasting with Heberer’s brassy triplets or dirty-toned cries. Niggenkemper’s measured stops and Hertenstein’s drum rolls connect the musical dots as well. A tune such as “Stratigraphy” is one exemplar, demonstrating conclusively how the band can be both lyrical and exploratory. With barely-there trumpet breaths and bass clarinet tongue slaps initially contrasting, the often-vocalized lines are eventually succeeded by brassy grace notes, reed trills and drum pops. Heberer’s subtle coda confirms the melodic theme.

With these discs, Hertenstein and associates demonstrate the peak of high-class improvisation, no matter on which side of the Atlantic they’re situated.

Tracks: Crespect: Batterie; Weep; The Flaps; Prag; HK 3; The Grips; Subminus; Crespect; In Flight; Pol; Farago; And now, the Queen.

Personnel: Crespect: Philip Zoubek: piano; Achim Tang: bass; Joe Hertenstein: drums

Tracks: Polylemma: Polylemma; Garden; Sugar’s Dilemma; Stratigraphy; One Ocean at a Time; Crespect; Banners ‘n’ Bubbles; Nupeez

Personnel: Thomas Heberer: trumpet, quarter-tone trumpet; Joachim Badenhorst: bass clarinet; Pascal Niggenkemper: bass; Joe Hertenstein: drums

—For New York City Jazz Record October 2011