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Friday, February 28, 2020

Grünen - Disenjambement (Trokaan Records, 2020) ****½

By Martin Schray

Grünen first performed in April 2009 when Robert Landfermann (bass) invited Achim Kaufmann (piano) and Christian Lillinger (drums) to participate in his ongoing concert series “Not without Robert“ at the Loft in Cologne. Their first encounter was immediately recorded and released by Clean Feed Records (read Stef’s review here). While the first recording was completely improvised, the trio has combined pure improv with preconceived material on their second album (Pith & Twig, also on Clean Feed) in order to take “new turns with written material, some of it rhythmically quite intricate and/or evoking images of surrealistic jazz and song“, as they put it. For their new album Disenjambement the band recorded at the Loft again - as part of a four-day-residency in June 2017. During the day they rehearsed and in the evening they played live and processed the developed material. They played two sets each evening and in the second sets the trio was mostly supported by musicians like Frank Gratkowski, Thomas Lehn, Carl-Ludwig Hübsch and Elisabeth Coudoux.

As on their second album there are improvised parts and notated elements on Disenjambement (here exclusively by Achim Kaufmann). However, Kaufmann isn’t the leader of the band, the trio is actually a real collective. There’s no hierarchy, there’s no distinction between solo artist and rhythm section, instead there’s a constant shifting of functions. “Mondegreen“, the opener, begins with Kaufmann playing weird Monk chords paired with a small, romantic, but rhythmically broken melody, which then shines through again and again in the composition. But the actual theme only emerges when Lillinger and Landfermann enter the piece and reflect it in a variety of ways. This predetermined statement is followed by improvisations on a rhythmic structure based on the theme, which is almost chopped up by Lillinger when he briefly intersperses quite monotonous, but loud rimshots in the style of a clockwork. Kaufmann's piano literally sparkles in front of Lillinger's nervous beats and Landfermann's independent, self-confident runs. Eventually, the head is taken up in the final part again. The piece is a perfect example of the trio's music, which attempts to combine the piano trio tradition with contemporary jazz and modern classical music by initially providing different material for all three players, which can then be varied and improvised with.

Another characteristic piece is “Fsinah“, a composition the trio also recorded for Pith & Twig, which consists of different thematic variations, which are initially interrupted by improvised and even contrasting intermediate parts. The central improvisational part is based on a rhythmic structure of only one bar. There are several formal parts in the piece, in this case a larger A/B form with a main part and an extended coda like on “Mondegreen“. The trio improvises with both parts, creating a constant up and down of emotions and surprising drop outs of bass and drums, yet everything is held together by the rhythmic structure that opens up and contracts all the time. The result is a tense and lyrical modern jazz piece with relaxed and funky beats, deconstructed parts, e.g. when Kaufmann makes use of the two pianos provided by the Loft, so that he could use a regular and a prepared one, which creates new and interesting polyphonic dimensions (something which becomes even more obvious in “Mierenneuker/Quincunx“).

Yet, my favorite piece is “Lost Gesture/Green Istria“, a composition consisting of a two-bar polyrhythmic structure in which the individual players selected different levels, which then alternate and overlap. Here Kaufmann’s idea of the music becomes obvious: creating some kind of meta-version of different musical genres like bebop, modal jazz, even 1970s new wave, without quoting it in a postmodern way. The piece develops a strong, dark groove with Kaufmann’s left hand and Landfermann’s bass exploring the low registers of their instruments before it dissolves in pure sound excursions.

Asked about his influences Kaufmann says that this was hard to define. He states that he found it interesting to think about what already existed and to do something new with it, to find a new level. This goes far beyond pure piano trios, he’s rather interested in larger contexts, in whatever kind of trios. That includes non-piano formations like the ones by Steve Lacy and Jimi Hendrix. And indeed, if you know this, you can find abstractions of rock, free jazz, classical music and even the above-mentioned new wave. The more intense you listen to the album, the more interesting details are revealed. This is what the future of piano trio music could sound like.

Disenjambement is available as a CD.

Watch the band live here: