Uli Kempendorff Quartet
Jazzhaus Musik JHM 189
Mark Anderson/ Paul Dunmall/Philip Gibbs/Tony Hymas
21st Century V-Bop
SLAM CD 284
Quartet combinations with saxophone, guitar and drums often negotiate the boundaries separating Jazz-Rock and Jazz-Improv. The German and British ensembles featured here negotiate opposite sides of the divide precisely because of each combo’s fourth member. With resilient pressures from Marc Muellbauer’s double bass, the band of reedist Uli Kempendorff, drummer Kay Lübke and guitarist Ronny Graupe works in Jazz-Improv conception. Meanwhile the intricate, somewhat spacey lines from Tony Hymas’ keyboards encourage Jazz-Rock invention from saxophonist Paul Dunmall, guitarist Philip Gibbs and drummer Mark Anderson.
There’s some irony implicit in these session designations, though. In other situations, often with Gibbs affiliated, Dunmall plays fiery Free Jazz. Meanwhile Graupe’s most frequent gig is with the Berlin-based Hyperactive Kid trio, which is as apt to call on Rock rhythms as Jazz elaborations.
Kempendorff, Louise’s leader, is another Berliner whose experience ranges from theatre, film and cabaret – the last with Canadian Aboriginal playwright/pianist Tomson Highway – teaching music, plus gigs with likes of pianist Ulrich Gumpert Workshop band. His academic and theatrical background is put in bold relief during his woody, near-Klezmer clarinet extensions on this CD’s “Rosen”, adapted from a composition by East German Hanns Eisler. As the clarinetist flutter-tongues, he’s backed by the guitarist’s robust, near-flamenco strums; cymbal resonation from Lübke, who has recorded with saxophonist Silke Eberhard; plus cross string scrawls, wooden body patting and below-the-bridge scratches from the bassist who both teaches at the Hanns Eisler music school and leads his own nine-piece Kaleidoscope band. On the other hand, “Ringelreih” features Kempendorff’s flutter-tongued a capella exposition on tenor saxophone before the stop-time theme kicks in. Spurred by plucked bass lines and the drummer’s pops and rebounds, the saxophonist spins out lightly accented timbres which keep his solo linear even as he adds snorts and higher-pitched double tonguing.
Overall, the saxophonist’s presentation of his compositions can sound either straight-ahead or funky. The first occurs when Lübke frequently pounds his snares and smashes his cymbals as if he was Shelly Manne at a West Coast Jazz date; the latter is exposed on “Gruß an Die Aiebzinger”, where Lübke’s shuffle beat bridges slippery string pumps from Graupe and swiftly vibrating legato sax lines from Kempendorff. Overall, the most affecting aural memory from the disc is the interplay between the saxophonist and the guitarist. To wit: flutter tonguing, twisting slurs and staccato trills on the saxophonist’s part are met by the guitar’s contrapuntal picking, skittering and mirrored note clusters or sprayed timbre decorations.
Similarly Gibbs’ and Dunmall’s pronounced guitar-saxophone intersection has been developed over many performances and just as many CDs recorded since before the beginning of the 21st Century. Self-taught, the Bristol-based guitarist also plays solo and with the cream of Improv players ranging from pianist Keith Tippett to drummer Hamid Drake. Meanwhile Hymas’ most high profile corresponding gigs have been with the likes of guitarist Jeff Beck and electric bassist Stanley Clarke as well as playing and composing notated music. One of a group of percussionists with homonymous or the same name, Anderson is a journeymen who has worked on both the Rock and Jazz side of the fence.
The latter two’s background may what pushes 21st Century V-Bop towards Rock, although the four are accomplished enough to eschew Pop Fusion and keep the communication lines open with free-form Improv. Dunmall in particular though, plays more linear and melodic lines than usual, especially on soprano saxophone, whose clear glissandi are the defining feature of most Fusion dates. Here, at least, when his timbres appear uncharacteristically chromatic, Gibbs is on hand to push him out of the comfort zone with resonating licks and swelling reverb. Equally pressurized knob-twisting distortions and wah-wah pedal strain from Gibbs sometimes presage additional coloration from Hymas’ church music-like keyboard chording and Anderson’s repetitive beats and clattering clunks.
Still, an inordinate number of faded endings on the CD suggest that despite the quartet’s talents, satisfying conclusions were lacking once everyone expressed his musical thoughts. Paced cadences and crescendos plus internal soundboard-clunks from the pianist; shattering cymbal breaks and paced ruffs from the drummer; and even the guitarist’s methodological and contrapuntal licks, including flanges and claw-hammer string pounding, don’t give enough shape to the proceeding.
Tellingly the most accomplished of these group instant compositions is the final one which is almost the lengthiest. Following some initial verbal mumbles and cries, “A Knight on the Tiles” takes off in a flurry of squealing reed bites, cross-handed snare pops, staccato electric piano comping and finger-picked string slides and slurs. As the keyboardist cascades high-frequency note flurries, his narrative evolves into double counterpoint, with Gibbs’ knob-twisting and slurred fingering in full pursuit. Intensifying his response, the keyboardist brings foot pedal pressure into play as he key clips and slaps. Heading for a resolution, Dunmall begins a sinuous soprano saxophone exposition with powerful double tonguing and an expansive vibrato. Eventually heavily syncopated guitar strumming and two-handed keyboard runs join the long-lined sax lines to complete the musical thoughts.
Similarly constituted in personnel, but completely different sounding CDs, both discs provide ample showcase for the band members’ multi-talents. On reflection, though, it appears that sonic cooperation is more obvious – and satisfying – on the German than the British session.
Track Listing: Louise: 1. Surcharge 2. Stuck 3. Rosen 4. Gruß an Die Aiebzinger 5. Can’t Read Your Signal 6. Aprilwetter 7. Ringelreih 8. Arresterd Development 9. Falenreich
Personnel: Louise: Uli Kempendorff (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Ronny Graupe (guitar); Marc Muellbauer (bass) and Kay Lübke (drums)
Track Listing: V-Bop: 1. The Path of Nonevitability 2. The Front 3. John’s Intelligent Ears 4. Once More into No-thing 5. Mad Dash for the Exit 6. Preyer 7. A Knight on the Tiles
Personnel: V-Bop: Paul Dunmall (tenor and soprano saxophones); Philip Gibbs (guitar); Tony Hymas (keyboards) and Mark Anderson (drums)
July 22, 2011
Berlin-New York Festival
By Ken Waxman
Berlin came to Brooklyn with a bang on the weekend of November 26 to 28, with eight different bands from the German capital played at the Irondale Cultural Center. Much of that bang – not to mention ruffs, rolls and rebounds – came from Günter Baby Sommer, Michael Griener and Christian Lillinger – three of Germany`s top percussionists, each featured with several bands. At the same time terrific Teutonic technique wasn`t restricted to drummers. The festival exposed New Yorkers to a cross-section of Berlin`s best improvised music from elder jazz statesmen and innovative younger players alike, who record in the main for the JazzWerkstatt label.
One electrifyingly stylist was alto saxophonist Henrik Walsdorf playing in a trio alongside bassist Jonas Westergaad and Lillinger. With a harsh tone that was as renal as it was razor-sharp, the saxophonist bit off great raw note chunks and chewed them over before regurgitating them as shredded split tones. He often did this while in a wrestler’s squat, his legs splayed and his torso bent at a 45 degree angle from the floor. Lillinger, whose rockabilly quiff and frequently frenzied motions make Hyperactive Kid – the name of his own trio – fittingly descriptive, draped his body over his kit, while smacking snares and toms with brushes and sticks, shaking a bell tree and occasionally yowling through a megaphone to complement Walsdorff’s vocal grunts. Picking his strings at the bridge or thumping them, Westergaad bemusedly kept the beat going.
Inventive as well as impulsive, Walsdorff turned from Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll on the final tune, first honking a Charlie Parker blues in straight time and then evolving into a version of “Everything Happens to Me” that replicated a cool jazz tone for a point before concluding with fortissimo reed biting.
Sommer, Lillinger’s mentor, demonstrated the rhythmic ingenuity that allowed an East German like him to play with accomplished Western free jazzers long before reunification. Not only did Sommer and his cohort of many decades, pianist Ulrich Gumpert, demonstrate live the extrasensory teamwork captured on their recent excellent duo disc Das Donnernde Leben on Intakt, but he also helped pilot Der Moment, a trio with the younger bassist Johannes Fink and the even younger trombonist Gerhard Gschlössl.
Gumpert and Sommer’s set was as far ranging as the music they have individually and mutually played in careers of over 40 years. The pianist slid some Monkisms into the turnaround of a funky blues; a medieval German air was tweaked into modernity when the drummer’s martial rhythms met the pianist’s rolling cascades; a dedication to Don Cherry came complete with an Ornette Colman-like dancing rhythm; and an anti-war song by East German dissident Wolf Biermann was simultaneously celebrated and deconstructed as Gumpert’s rolling staccato chords joined Sommer’s hard-handed parade ground beat and police-whistle shrilling.
Slinky slides, capillary whinnies, tremolo flutter-tonguing and elephant-like snorts characterized Gschlössl’s solos with Der Moment, Meanwhile Sommer ranged widely, here emphasizing a beat with an upturned elbow, there leaping in front of his bass drum to solidly hit it; frequently shaking maracas and waving his drum sticks in the air; and at one point pounding his toms with faux American Indian war party beats. Ending with a gospelish original with embellishments provided by Gschlössl’s plunger work, the performance encompassed Saxony marches, 52nd Street styled swing and a Bavarian take on the new thing.
With an identical instrumental make-up and just as spectacular in performance was Squakk: trombonist Christof Thewes, bassist Jan Roder and drummer Griener. Squakk’s set featured demarcated crescendos and finales, and overall was tighter then Der Moment’s. Like Gschlössl’s, Thewes’ ‘bone work included gutbucket guffaws, rugged cup-muted blasts and tailgate-styled chortles. Thewes was also capable of fluent smoothness when blowing legato timbres from an open horn. Low-key, Roder’s rounded tones and delicate finger-picking provided perfect accompaniment, though he didn’t eschew walking. Seconding the others, while forging a unique rhythmic path, Griener offered up rolls, drags and ratamacues, sometimes buzzing staccato abrasions from drums rims and sides.
All of Squakk was integrated into the Gumpert Workshop band, whose series of suites climaxed the JazzWerkstatt festival. Thewes’ composition “The End of Dow Jones” was more provocative in title than execution, but it did give space to tenor saxophonist Uli Kempendorff’s smears and shouts; slippery altissimo runs from Walsdorf; and harmonized riffs from the alto saxophone or clarinet of Michael Thieke. More substantial as an arrangement was “Worlds Apart”, written by trumpeter Paul Brody, who the day previously with his Sadawi quintet used the rhythmic talents of Roder, Grenier, Michael Winograd’s liquid clarinet airs and Brandon Seabrook’s note-shredding guitar licks to link improv, Klezmer and Balkan music with an overlay of ferocious rock. Brody’s Workshop piece took advantage of the colors available from the octet, succeeding with a polyphonic invention rather than a string of solos.
But the festival’s ultimate sound was reserved for compositions by band leader Gumpert, who with Sommer – and clarinettist Rolf Kühn, whose otherwise young Trio-O featuring Lillinger, forged a path blending 1950s cool jazz with contemporary sounds the evening before – confirmed that the facility for creating worthwhile jazz, forged in opposition before many of the improve tyros featured in the festival were born, is still fully functioning.
Gumpert’s bravura recital successively touched on Teutonic marches, primitive blues and sophisticated layers of jazz from many eras, while in true workshop fashion, he utilized each musician’s strengths. As the pianist economically comped and key-clipped, his mostly linear arrangements contrasted Thewes’ laughing brays with Brody’s pure tone; or tongue-slapping clarinet from Thieke with frenetic, reed-biting intensity from Walsdorff, then succeeded by an episode of subterranean flutter-tonguing from Kempendorff. With Grenier proving himself as adapt at time keeping as free time and Roder moving from to walking to intricate spiccato with the same facility, the pianist’s alternating impressionistic harmonies or kinetic patterning pushed the band to multi-faceted crescendos and magisterial sonic climaxes. Overall these sounds were as distinctive and notable as most of the music played during the festival itself.
-- For All About Jazz New York January 2011
January 8, 2011