Die Enttäuschung

Vier Halbe
Intakt CD 211

Sixty years after the fact who would have guessed that the most stimulating variant of the legendary Gerry Mulligan piano-less quartet would appear in POMO form from Berlin’s Die Enttäuschung?

The group members – trumpeter Axel Dörner, reedist Rudi Mahall, bassist Jan Roder and drummer Uli Jennessen – has in the past become known for interpretations of Hard Bop compositions, most notably Thelonious Monk’s, as well as crisply performing their own tunes. Yet on this program of 21 [!] pieces composed individually by all band members, Mahall’s reliance on the baritone saxophone as well as his usual bass clarinet puts the group firmly in Mulligan quartet territory. Adding to the resemblance is that Dörner, whose swallowed and dissident tones often reach the very edge of avant-gardism, mostly keeps his solos in a range so comfortable he could have worked in any West Coast band circa 1955. The mostly brief compositions –only five come anywhere near the five minute mark – evolve with maximum swing as well, with Jennessen proving himself incredibly apt writing in that Cool Jazz style.

There’s actually also a little known a Mulligan-era connection to Die Enttäuschung. Trumpeter Jon Eardley (1928-1991), who played in the baritone saxophonist’s combo from 1954 to 1957, later moved to Europe and joined Köln’s WDR Big Band. It was there that Dörner took lessons with him for a time. Certainly the trumpeter’s playing here encompasses the grace and groove of Eardley in several sequences.

Mahall’s “Die Übergebundenen” for example exposes the trumpeter’s flutter tonguing during harmonic exchanges with the composer’s baritone tongue-slurps. Meanwhile the balladic “Aqua Satin Flame “, composed by the drummer, unites Dörner’s bent grace notes and Mahall’s low-pitched tone expositions in gratifying counterpoint. Jennessen’s no slouch as a percussionist either, adding cross pumping and thumping accents to many of the tunes, while Roder’s time-keeping frequently expands to take in slithering and slippery string slaps, sometimes in tandem with Mahall’s contrapuntal or sympathetic snorts.

Roder’s hard pulsations are put to good use on Jennessen’s “Jitterbug Five”, a sophisticated contrafact of the Fats Waller composition. Not only does the superimposed original head eventually give way to a reading of “Jitterbug Waltz”, but with cowbell clanks directing the action, the narrative become more agitated and staccatissimo until it’s finally deconstructed. Jennessen demonstrates his skill with ratamacues in a shuffle rhythm, as the reedist’s contralto lines presage a climatic crescendo from all.

Everyone gets into the act as well. Roder demonstrates his skill as a composer with “The Easy Going”, which parlays a Chico Hamilton Quintet-like sonic squirm into a multi-faceted interlude. Without losing the narrative thread, the horn players’ solos are respectively capillary rococo and reed-biting, with Mahall’s throat-clearing gruffness finally signaling the completion. In the same fashion Dörner’s uncharacteristic relaxed and moderato textures throughout are reflected in his compositions. “Gekannt” for instance finds the composer’s quicksilver grace notes uniting with Mahall’s pointillist smears until a Mulligan4-like melody oozes out. Tightened by harmonized horns, the narrative eventually circles back to the head signaled by cow-bell pops and a walking bass line.

All and all, probably Vier Halbe’s more characteristic piece is “Hello My Loneliness” composed by Jennessen. Demonstrating the careful instrumental balance that’s endemic throughout, an intricate double bass intro gives way to linear broken chords from the horns, both of whom output solos that are as flighty as they are melismatic.

An exceptional achievement all around, the CD succeeds is being quirkily POMO without insulting its ostensible source material. And who knows, if hard-core West Coast Jazz fan hear it, they may discover they like contemporary improvised music as well.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Die Übergebundenen 2. Verzählt 3. Aqua Satin Flame 4. Das Jan vom Stück 5. Falsches Publikum 6. Vermöbelt 7. Jitterbug Five 8. Gekannt 9. Trompete für Fortgeschrittene 10. Wie Axel 11. Eine Halbe 12. Hereich 13. Hello My Loneliness 14. Vier Halbe 15. Children's Blues 16. Möbelrücken 17. The Easy Going 18. Verkannt 19. Trompete für Anfänger 20. Trompete für Profis 21. Schlagzeug für Anfänger

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