Hannes Zerbe/Jazz Orchestra Berlin

JazzHausMusik JHS 248

Ensemble Nautilis

Regards De Breizh

Innacor INNA 11612

Confirming that more can often be done with less, a French little big band shapes the polyphonic contours available from a 10-piece ensemble to produce a euphonic sound depiction even more memorable as the descriptive arrangements propelled by a German band almost double its size. These Interpretations explore divergent itineraries however since the Breton ensemble’s dozen tracks are linked to program music, while the 17-piece Berlin-based band’s five extended tracks are designed to highlight confluence among improvised, notated and theatrical accompanying sounds.

As well as the contributions from band members, each session also reflects one musician’s concepts. Located in Brittany, the Ensemble Nautilis (EN) has been together since 2001. Organized and mostly featuring the compositions and arrangements of clarinetist Christophe Rocher, who has also played elsewhere with improvisers like Roger Turner and Jacques Di Donato, the EN’s vision is to amplify impression of the local area. Regards De Breizh grew from a concert interpretation of the Breton photographs of Guy Le Querrec. Jazz Orchestra Berlin (JOB) on the other hand is the most recent manifestation of the compositions and arrangements of pianist Hannes Zerbe. Someone who also works with church and chamber music, symphonies, radio drama, theatre and film as well as notable improvisers like Conrad Bauer, Kalkutta gathers a collection of the city’s most accomplished players to interpret Zerbe’s admixture of these elements in a Jazz context.

Program-like, but not reflecting any particular Le Querrec photograph, some of which are reproduced in the album booklet, the EN’s CD stands on its own musically. For instance, a track such as “Les gestes” is an all-out rocker, framed by drum backbeat from Nicolas Pointard, steaming power from bassists Frédéric B. Briet, Hélène Labarrière, fluttering horn vamps, over which Céline Rivoal’s accordion glissandi soar. “La marée était en noir” in contrast is an atmospheric nature scene, constructed from accordion quivers, breezy gusts from the electronics of Vincent Raude and percussive clicks until Rocher’s clarinet plus Pointard work out a modified swing section that charges forward propelled by reed stutters.

Fluctuations between effervescence and mediation characterize parts of the suite, with other tracks highlighting brass blares from trumpeter Philippe Champion meshing starkly with languid double bass blending (“Les cheveux dans le vent”); volatile Mingusian riffing from contrasting brass and reed declamations (“Les hommes forts”) and a finale (“Que sont-ils devenus”), which manages to be both sinewy and reflective, with percussion shuffles fueling staccato elaborations from the linear-directed horns. “Carnets de noces”, the CD’s showpiece, wraps up all these influences and more. Slipping into mellow Gil Evans-like territory following an introduction that’s all waling bass and candied alto saxophone lines, the theme scoots from one instrument to another in wisps or smears. By the time accordion judders and rustic fiddling from violinist Jacky Molard enter the mix in the final sequences, suggestions of Breton folklore mix with staccato swing, as flugelhorn puffs and reed riffs add to a climax of deft phrasing.

Likely related to his varied musical persona, the tracks Zerbe composed for the JOB reflect various aspects of it. All hit a swing groove, but there’s a feeling that sheer professionalism is driving the program rather than heartfelt emotion. The weakest track is probably the final one “Allegro Assai (Aus der ‘Kleinen Sinfonie’)”. Composed by the former DDR’s agitprop musical icon Hanns Eisler, it sounds like pure background music. Maybe Zerbe wanted to indicate that he could create a swing arrangement for any tune, but why not use one of his so-called serious melodies? “Einspruch No. 2” is confusing as well. Beginning as a pseudo mocking semi-classical piece with the vitality centred on Matthew Booket’s tuba blats, a slow, woody double bass solo from Horst Nonnenmacher marks a groove transition first to a swinging solo from alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard and ends with an overdone Rock-Blues solo from guitarist Jörg Schippa that would seem to have more in common with Johnny Winter wannabes than B.B. King. JOB’s versatile membership is demonstrated, nut to what end?

While Zerbe can be praised for not injecting any overtly Indian and/or ersatz exotic motifs onto the title track, transliterated into English as “Calcutta”, there appears to be no hint that the program has anything to do with the capital of West Bengal now called Kolkata. Perhaps the theme that skips between march tempo and big band swing is supposed to suggest that the city has become as westernized an anything in Berlin or Brittany? Musically pointillist it does set up duets, including trumpeter Christain Magnusson’s flutter tonguing with the tuba player and slithery clarinet from Jürgen Kupke with guitar comping and ends with a polyphonic reinterpretation of the simple melody including tremolo horn snarls and even makes room for emotional tenor saxophone vibrations from Dirk Engelhardt and resonating drum breaks from Christian Marien. Otherwise the subtle shading confirms skill more than spirit.

Elsewhere other players add flashes of harmonic inspiration. They include stylized shifts among alto saxophonist Nico Lohmann, trombonist Alistair Duncan and Kupke on the rubato sections of “Junijuliaug” before it shifts to rubato swing; or the seven-piece brass section’s low-key crackles that fit moderated “Ph-Wert”.

Zerbe and JOB have avoided the pitfalls of program music on Kalkutta, but at the expense of a clear identification. Meanwhile Rocher and EN’s more modest territory personification has produced more musical dividends,

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Regards: La fille de l'arcouest 2. Les hommes forts 3. Plongée 4. Carnets de noces

5. La marée était en noir 6. La grande boutique 7. Les gestes 8. Vacances 9. Les cheveux dans le vent 10. Marché aux bêtes 11. Diskan 12. Que sont-ils devenus ?

Personnel: Regards: Philippe Champion (trumpet, flugelhorn); Christophe Rocher (clarinet and bass clarinet); Nicolas Peoc’h (alto saxophone); Christofer Bjurström (piano); Céline Rivoal (accordion); Jacky Molard (violin); Frédéric B. Briet, Hélène Labarrière (bass); Nicolas Pointard (drums); Vincent Raude (electronics)

Track Listing: Kalkutta: 1. Junijuliaug 2. Kalkutta 3. Ph-Wert 17 4. Einspruch No. 2 5. Allegro Assai (Aus der ‘Kleinen Sinfonie’)

Personnel: Kalkutta: Damir Bacikin, Christian Magnusson (trumpet); Nikolaus Neuser (trumpet, flugelhorn); Florian Juncker, Alistair Duncan (trombone); Stefan Most (French horn); Matthew Booket (tuba); Jürgen Kupke (clarinet); Silke Eberhard (alto saxophone, clarinet); Nico Lohmann (alto saxophone, flute); Dirk Engelhardt (tenor saxophone); Gebhard Ullmann (bass clarinet. flute); Alexander Beierbach (baritone saxophone); Hannes Zerbe (piano); Jörg Schippa (guitar); Horst Nonnenmacher (bass); Christian Marien (drums)