April 29, 2020
Christian Lillinger may be attempting too much too soon. One of Free Music’s most accomplished drummers, the Berlin-based player is now helming many projects to show off his musical facets. His previous CD was an ambitious composition for eight musicians that attempted, mostly favorably, to balance echoes of soundtracks, New music and precise instrumentation. Now with Grammar II he’s gone in the opposite direction with the same partial result.
This four-part microtonal creation is pure improvisation; played by a trio completed by musicians Lillinger has played with since 2011. German vibraphonist Christopher Dell has worked with Heinz Sauer and the Oleś brothers among others. Danish bassist Jonas Westergaard has recorded with the likes of Ronny Graupe and Peter Bruun.
This live session gets off to a slow start as leisurely textures built on bass string sweeps and tightened drum pattering that moves alongside metal bar affiliations that echo the melodic theme, A brighter tempo is only attained in the first track’s final minutes. As the suite evolves this duality is expressed throughout, with a thesis profound enough to balance seriousness and swing. But in toto the creation suffers from lack of movement and contrast. Hypnotic unity never quite takes hold since, to compare the three to two similar microtonal trios, nothing like AMM’s mystery or The Necks rhythmic thrust is present. Both those combos feature a pianist, as did the Modern Jazz Quartet, to which motifs on Grammar II sometimes resemble. Perhaps adding a chordal instrument would have given the trio members’ strategy greater scope.
As it is, no major complaints can be registered as to the three’s individual improvising. Moving to staccato and speedy motions by the second and third tracks, Dell’s mallet strokes and slides easily affiliate with Westergraard’s supple fills and Lillinger’s press rolls. “Duration - Structure III” then aims for a swing statement with two sequences of flying vibraphone pulses. But just as suddenly, the narrative pulls back with double-bass stops and measured drum drags. More textures in the form of metal squeaks and chiming tones as well as Lillinger’s provocative splatters and time-shattering are present on the concluding track. Yet by that time the gentling and restrained repetition has so settled into uniformity that breaking loose is no option.
Compelling for the musicians individual improvising smarts, involving more textures and tempos on Grammar II could have resulted in a better outcome. Still with the talent on the skills on display here there’s a strong likelihood that this may happen next time out.
Track Listing: 1. Duration - Structure I 2. Duration - Structure II 3. Duration - Structure III 4. Duration - Structure VI
Personnel: Christopher Dell (vibraphone); Jonas Westergaard (bass) and Christian Lillinger (drums)