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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Z3 - Pale Fire (Whyplayjazz, 2014) ***½

By Martin Schray

Philip Zoubek is an Austrian pianist and composer who lives in Cologne and is part of the scene around the “Loft”, a wonderful location for improvised music and new classical music, which is run by WDR Symphony Orchestra flautist Hans Martin Müller. Zoubek is known for his extended techniques preparing his piano with pots, plastic stuff and glass jars (and many more) but for this album he has chosen to put this stuff aside (at least mostly). His trio with Benjamin Weidekamp (cl, bcl) and Christian Weber (b) refers to Jimmy Giuffre’s seminal trio with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow but Zoubek intends to continue their approach adding his own musical experiences so that the music is more than a mere homage.

Pale Fire” lives from a constant clash of composed material and improvised passages, Zoubek wanted the improvisation to take part in a complex communicative space where all the musicians are aware what the others are doing and where roles and functions are permanently in flux.

This is less intellectual than it sounds, tracks like “Melos” are constant shapeshifters as well as to rhythm and sound, intensity and beauty. The composition starts like a classic Giuffre piece, the melodies jump like jaunty grasshoppers, there is a sense of wildlife on a summer meadow, lively, joyous, exuberant – but towards the end the atmosphere changes: the sounds of the clarinets and the bowed bass are gloomy and dark, only the piano tries keep the mood from the beginning alive. There is immediacy and subtlety, there are condensed compositional parts and extended improvised spaces and especially when the instruments seem to melt into each other, the album has its best moments – for example in “Two” (my favorite) and “Hu”, the longest track, where Zoubek comes back to prepared piano.

My friend Julia Neupert (who is also the host of the SWR radio show) was absolutely enthusiastic about the album and I have to admit that I was rather reluctant after the first listening. Yet, the music has hidden qualities that I recognized only after several attempts, it is music that needs attention.

Pale Fire” was recorded at the “Loft”, most of the music was played live at a gig the band played after two days in the studio.

Listen to an album teaser