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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Stefan Schönegg - Enso (Impakt, 2016) ****

By Martin Schray

Stefan Schönegg is a young German bassist who studied in Berlin and Cologne, where he now lives and works. He‘s a founding member of IMPAKT (a composite of "IMProvisation" and "AKTuelle Musik"), a Cologne-based music collective which produces albums and organizes festivals and concerts in galleries, bars and small venues to provide better access to avant-garde music, ranging from free jazz and new classical music to electronica and noise.

Schönegg is a member of the bands Botter, Die Fichten and Simon Nabatov's trio, Enso is his first release as a leader. What’s immediately striking is the attempt to find a comprehensive musical language, a way to unite heterogeneity and homogeneity, something that can bring together new classical and improvised music in an organic way. Therefore Schönegg tries to balance improvisation and pre-existing material in a different way, though he’s aware that this has been done many times before. His approach is to base each of his pieces on a certain concept - whether there are completely notated parts or sparse guidelines like a melody or just a bass line – which provide some interesting results.

His music can be meditative (up to complete silence) but also tight and energetic. In general, the pieces tend towards minimalism, precise and to the point. Tracks like 'Thaha' are tender and beautiful, occasionally reminiscent of Michael Nyman's soundtracks, but with rough and edgy arcoed cymbals, where you can sense Schönegg's attempt to reconcile tonal congruence with abstract, angular, noisy and atonal sounds.

Sound colors are very important on Enso. Schönegg's bass is supported by Leonhard Huhn (alto and soprano saxophone, bass clarinet), Nathan Bontrager (cello) and Etienne Nillesen’s very individual prepared snare drum, and percussion. This leads to a very string-orientated, light and floating sound, such as 'Peaceful Multidimensionally', where Huhn's and Schönegg's long notes clash into Nillesen's hyperactive drum chattering, creating a dark atmosphere.

The best two pieces, 'Hellblau' (light blue) and the title track, try to capture certain moods. The first is melancholic with an impressionist cello wrapped in randomly whispered reeds and percussion, sounding like the wingbeat of a hummingbird. The latter has the tranquil atmosphere of untouched nature in the early morning. The music stops from time to time, as if awestruck.

Enso is a Japanese character: a circle drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create, symbolizing enlightenment, strength, the universe, and the void - everything and nothing. Like painters, Schönegg and his band create small studies in one elegant movement, effortless and fluid. It’s an intriguing collection from a talented musician of whom we should be aware in the future.

The album is available as a CD in a limited edition and as a download.

You can buy the album and listen to it here:

Watch the band live here: