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Monday, July 24, 2017

Christian Lillinger/Tobias Delius - Dicht (Relative Pitch, 2017) ****

By Martin Schray

Julia Neupert, the host of the SWR2 Now Jazz radio show "Freejazzblog On Air", has a theory about the way musicians play their instruments: She claims that their style is similar to the way they talk. Be it quick, moderate, hectical or bewildered - everything is reflected in their music. And she has a point: Think of Peter Brötzmann, who could declaim very uncompromisingly and brush off other people’s opinions very harshly when he was younger. However, he’s seemed to mellow with age when you talk to him these days and so has his music, for example on Münster Bern. Another example is Han Bennink, who likes to tell funny anecdotes and whose performances always have something clownesque.

This theory also works for the young German drum wizard Christian Lillinger and saxophonist/clarinetist Tobias Delius. Delius, a real cosmopolitan who was born in Argentina and has lived in Mexico, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany, speaks eight languages and he can easily jump back and forth between them. On the saxophone he combines the swing sound of Ben Webster and the hard bop tradition of Sonny Rollins with elements of the blues and a traditional free jazz attitude. Or, as Olie Brice put it: “I like his massive, warm sound and his melodic style rooted in the great jazz tenor tradition, with a completely flexible and free approach to improvised interaction.“

In conversations Delius often mumbles, he sometimes gets lost in anacoluthons, just to use very elaborate and eloquent constructions in the next sentences. Lillinger, on the other hand, is someone who talks very rapidly, his sentences ricochet through the air. He throws in ideas, interrupts his thoughts, turns in another direction, just to be absolutely precise within a second. As a drummer his style is incredibly inventive and unpredictable, it’s as if he was an electric toy which is wound up and cannot be stopped.

In their duo they combine Delius’ instant melodies with Lillinger’s quick-witted responses, it’s a fascinating dialogue, a give and take that works in raucous and laid back moments. "Pea Jaw Zinc Zee", the longest track on Dicht (German for "tight"), is a good example of this. Delius plays chopped and blurred lines, he quotes Evan Parker motives and creates tender blues riffs, he interrupts, starts anew, tries something completely different, while Lillinger pushes him forward and forces him to zigzag with his phrases, click sounds and sparse notes. It’s as if they were eyeing each other. When Delius plays a swing riff in the middle of the track, Lillinger resigns attacking it and prefers to support it delicately. Only in the last few minutes they seem to agree out of the blue and tighten the reins. When the listener has just noticed that something has changed they stop the track track right in the middle.

Dicht is like a high speed conversation in different idioms. It’s fun to listen to it over and over again to discover Delius’ hidden references and just to acknowledge that Lillinger is the most interesting European drummer at the moment.

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