Kathrin Pechlof Trio

Toward the Unknown
Pirouet Records PIT 3104

Adding her name to the short list of harpists involved with Jazz or improvised music is Kathrin Pechlof. Yet the very title of her nine-track release, Toward the Unknown, literally defines its drawbacks. Evidently Pechlof and her associates, alto saxophonist Christian Weidner and bassist Robert Landfermann are unafraid to move towards the unknown, but unable to immerse themselves in it without relying on tonal restraints.

Unlike earlier harpists such as Alice Coltrane or Dorothy Ashby Pechlof isn’t from the Jazz tradition. She has been a member of Munich’s Taschenphilharmonie chamber orchestra for years and besides subbing in ensembles like the Stuttgart Philharmonic and the Beethoven Ensemble Bonn, has also been involved with electronic music and pop projects as well as improvising with the likes of Pablo Held and Benjamin Schäfer. Landfermann, who works with Held, Ernest-Ludwig Petrowsky and others; and Weidner, who plays regularly with Achim Kaufmann, Jim Black et al are closer to Jazz, but appear guarded in their playing here as well.

With some tracks overlaid with sameness in tempo and convention, notable drama is really only apparent when the three dangle further way from their accepted moorings. “Feldfolge” for instance unveils a swing statement made up of saxophone trills and a walking double bass line after successive harp glissandi have set the scene. The track soon opens up with reed slurps that contrapuntally mesh with a sprinkle of string plinks. Furthermore, the conception of the title tune contrasts a downwards harp resonations with saxophone peeps, leaving Landfermann to disrupt the continuum enough so that Pechlof finally becomes brave enough to sound needle-thin scratches on her multiple string set. Finally, h the piece climaxes with split tones from Weidner and pitch-variations from the bassist as the harpist readjusts the narrative. Even the concluding “Made up Animals” features string spills from Landfermann, sharpened reed bites from Weidner, and the harpist’s double-stopping spiccato is noteworthy but not definitive..

Although the finesse in playing from the two string players equals the most sophisticated of so-called classical players in both Arco and pizzicato modes, genteel harp strumming and saxophone puffs that sound as if they come from an enervated Paul Desmond appear to dominate many of the other tracks.

Overall there’s no doubt of the trio’s technical skill and interest in portraying certain low-key messages, But while this part of the universe appears neutral and placid, the instances here when the three go outside their comfort zone(s) augur for potentially more challenging programs in the future.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Silence Is a Looking Bird 2. Fuge 3. Elegie 4. Feldfolge 5. Thema und Variation 6. Earth 7. Toward the Unknown 8. Versuch 9. Made up Animals

Personnel: Christian Weidner (alto saxophone); Kathrin Pechlof (harp) and Robert Landfermann (bass)