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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Rudi Mahall Olaf Rupp Kasper Tom - s/t (Barefoot Records, 2019) ****

By Paul Acquaro

It can be a pretty special event when Berlin based guitarist Olaf Rupp and clarinetist Rudi Mahall get together with the Danish percussionist Kaspar Tom. It does not happen too often but when it does, musical sparks fly. For those unable to catch these rare appearances, we luckily have the eponymous titled recording, expertly captured by Rupp in concert at the popular Berlin Jazz spot Soweiso in late 2018.

Let's begin with just a little history: Mahall and Tom have released recordings with legendary pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach; Mahall and Schlippenbach have also released a duo recording; and Rupp and Mahall have also recorded together, for instance on Happy Jazz from a few years ago. All excellent recordings, this particular constellation of musicians is something else entirely. Wide ranging and free roaming, the music is at times rooted and other times floating free of any and all tethers. 

So where to start? One could focus on Mahall. The clarinetist - either on the lovely bass or precise Bb version of the instrument - works effortlessly a spectrum running from the traditional to avant-garde, always playing with a full-bodied tone. His playing can be fluid and connective like during the opening bars of the closing track "Zugabe", or fluid and abstract like on the closing moments of the opening track "Opening", or textural and exploratory like on the later half of the track 'Turm'. One could also focus on Rupp, whose playing is unconventional and evocative. He doesn't rely on the typical approach that one may associate with guitar, but rather is able to approach the type cast instrument like it is made for free playing, while not losing its spirit. He plucks, he uses chord fragments, sweeps and unusual arpeggios to make both melodic and non-melodic sounds, pretty much simultaneously. Finally, it may also be tempting to single out Tom's work on the drums. Like his partners, he employs abstracted playing, often pointed, using non-rhythmic pulses and often abruptly stopped cymbal hits and sharp hits on the drum as an equal voice in this trio.

However, it's best to enjoy the sound that they make together. Leading each other along, the music exudes a palpable sense of camaraderie and a friendly pushing of each other's playing. The melodies are very abstract and rely on the interactivity of their playing and quick witted responses. Like on the track 'Vier', where the three are engaged in a multi-layered game of call and response, Rupp smears the tonal palette with distorted tonal clusters and percussive vibrations, Mahall injects slippery lines,  oiling the connection to Tom's akimbo accents. The pulse and approach would be impossible with one alone. Bound by the disconnects, the music defies expectations, it can possibly drive one to madness, and/or raise your level of consciousness to heretofore unimaginable levels - or maybe something in-between.