January 26, 2019
Philip Zoubek Trio
Why Play Jazz WPJ042
Insub Records 2016
Recorded within one month of one another at Köln’s Loft music space, these trio discs combined could be entitled the two sides of Philip Zoubek. Except rather than the usual half-sweet and half-beat comparison which these banners usually suggest, the antithetical applications of the Austrian-born keyboardist are more like that of Bruce Banner and The Incredible Hulk. Not ascribing a defined temperament to ether CD, Outside, despite its title, is a contemporary Jazz trio, with Zoubek backed by Swiss drummer Dominik Mahnig and German bassist David Helm. Otherwise, Otherwise is an exploratory examination of unfussy minimalism with the pianist also playing synthesizer in tandem with Canadian Pierre-Yves Martel’s viola da gamba, pitch pipes and synthesizer and German Carl Ludwig Hübsch on tuba, objects and pitch pipes.
Helm and Mahnig, who are frequent rhythm partners and have worked with the likes of Simon Nabatov and Jacob Anderskov, appear as supporting players on Outside, leaving the direction and elaboration of the 10 compositions, all by the pianist, to Zoubek’s piano adroitness. Fully integrated during the course of two extended improvisations, Hübsch, Martel and Zoubek are more like the cooperative X-Men than mirroring the singular Spiderman and followers exploits on the other disc. On the keys, Zoubek moves decisively from swirling and vibrated chord patterns that swing intently to fine-spun judders that casually yet dramatically unfold melodies. Most imposing are tracks which offer variations on both strategies. “The Clearing” for instance, has a reflective exposition of resonating bass string plucks, balanced drum ratamacues and note sprinkles from the pianist, only to transform superhero-like half way through into a power shuffle with key fanning that crests with a crescendo of cadences at the finale. As well “Der König” is a fantasia whose introductory delicacy is soon undermined by high-frequency piano cascades matched with implements shaking on top of the soundboard plus drum rattle and double bass pops that draw away from, but never negate, the trio’s effective forward motion. At the same time piano trio subtlety shouldn’t be confused with somnolence. For example, thickened string plops and pedal-pushed piano lines steer “Distorted Chants”, while the processional keyboard march that’s the theme of “Rhetorics” follows rattling rim shots and a walking bass line. Shadowing each other’s every movement Helm and Mahnig make the perfect back-up to Zoubek’s compositional and keyboard flights.
Ensemble work by definition, Otherwise’s two extended tracks have no background or foreground. Hübsch’s hoarse tuba burbles often provide the continuum beneath the others’ timbre stretching, but in other sequences this is the result of Zoubek’s repeated inner-piano string vibrations or intervallic respite from Martel’s strings. The swirling tone oscillations from one or another of the synthesizers add a thin aural drone to the expositions, whether in counterpoint to gentling piano lines or alphorn-like plunger tones from the tuba or helping to reach a crescendo of tone-melding.
Pretty much of one piece, the captivating selections merely differ in length, with the five-minute longer “Likemind” more attuned to microtonal build up resulting from layered interaction. Before taking off during a mid section of polyphony, with twanging strings, howling brass counterpoint and accordion-like tremolo pulses from the keyboards, the track unfolds in increments like a real-time film of an unfolding blossom. In contrast, the penultimate section accedes to discordance with hocketing string rubs, dynamic keyboard strums and pitch-sliding brass glissandi. Here though discordant doesn’t mean disruptive and the hypnotic timbres are sustained for connective control to the finale.
These discs show that Zoubek can expand upon memorable sounds in both so-called mainstream and so-called avant-garde contexts. You choice of a session depends on your preference for either.
Track Listing: Otherwise: 1. Sincerely 2. Likemind
Personnel: Otherwise: Carl Ludwig Hübsch (tuba, objects and pitch pipes); Pierre-Yves Martel (viola da gamba, pitch pipes and synthesizer ) and Philip Zoubek (piano and synthesizer)
Track Listing: Outside: 1. Scanning 2. Rhetorics 3. Now Then 4. Sketch 5. Spaces in Between 6. Der König 7. Gambit 8. The Clearing 9. The Long Fade 10. Distorted Chants
Personnel: Outside: Philip Zoubek (piano); David Helm (bass) and Dominik Mahnig (drums)