Berlin Art Quartet

Live at b-flat

Named in honor of 1960s’ New York Art Quartet (NYAQ), members of the thoroughly contemporary Berlin Art Quartet (BAQ) needn’t have bothered with the comparison.

Live at b-flat isn’t a recreation of NYAQ tunes, but six originals. Secondly the BAQ features a tenor saxophonist rather than the NYAQ’s alto saxophonist. Essentially as well, the German players are actually more in sync than the American ones. While future jazz standard bearers, saxophonist John Tchicai, trombonist Roswell Rudd and drummer Milford Graves were in the NYAQ, the bass chair often shifted. In contrast the BAQ’s double bassist, Matthias Bauer, who works with the likes of Harri Sjöström and Floros Floridis is an integral part of the band. Tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert plays with genre challengers such as Simon Nabatov and Jörg Fischer; drummer Reinhard Brüggemann with Joel Grip and Hub Hildenbrand, while the third Matthias, trombonist Müller, works with Frank Paul Schubert and Jeb Bishop among others.

Starting off with a literal bang, the four work through permutations of advanced free sounds during the extended tracks which begin this live set. Nearly 20 minutes in length, the introductory “Entfaltung” is a deft essay in Free Jazz, with the saxophonist burbling and sputtering multiphonic runs while the trombonist snorts as he shakes out a plunger exposition. The drummer decorates the sequence with dramatic clip clops and bell-tree shakes, while the bassist preserves the progressive thrust with stops and twangs. Here and on the subsequent “Bewegung”, Schubert and Müller each illuminate separate grooves crossing one another’s lines as they move in and out of splintered atonality. Concurrently, as the second track demonstrates, not every tone is invested with blare and bluster. Müller’s dexterous slides encompass faint breaths, Harmon-muted timbres and near human sounding vocalized pitches. Creating a countermelody Schubert adds chalumeau smears as he ranges up and down the scale. Ambling along with ringing slaps from Brüggemann and stentorian pulls from Bauer, the track eventually climaxes as bass string spills create a foundation for the horns’ final Gatling-gun-like split tones.

While the BAQ is open and sophisticated enough to include material that ranges from shuffling threnody to yelping polyphony, the concluding “Gipfeltreffen” is an apt summation of its consolidated skills. Suspending reed-burbling theme elaboration and an in-the-throat growls brass challenge upon gearwheel ratcheting from the percussionist and a double bass continuum, the quartet’s unique tough and tender identity is emphasized. Live at b-flat updates Free Jazz identity while emphasizing contemporary concepts.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Entfaltung 2. Bewegung 3. Erinnerung 4. Kombination 5. Polar-Schmelze 6. Gipfeltreffen

Personnel: Matthias Müller (trombone); Matthias Schubert (tenor saxophone); Matthias Bauer (bass) and Reinhard Brüggemann (drums and percussion)