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Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Rudi Mahall / Jan Roder / Olaf Rupp - Skyhook (Audiosemantics, 2022)

By Martin Schray

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Olaf Rupp’s music. His way of playing guitar (acoustic and electric), how he combines Flamenco, alternative rock and free jazz is simply unique. So, it’s no wonder that I was excited when I heard that he was going to release Skyhook, the second album of his outfit with bassist Jan Roder and clarinetist Rudi Mahall. The first one, JR3, was also well reviewed on our site.

Skyhook is in no way inferior to the trio’s debut, the music is a hodgepodge of stylistic elements that seem to be completely contradictory, but in the end they fit together very well. A perfect example of the trio’s music is the second track, “vernünftig“. It begins with Rupp’s guitar trills colliding with the emotional ebb and flow of bowed bass notes that seem to stream directly from Roder’s instrument, while Mahall intersperses his contributions very economically. When Roder puts away the bow and begins to pluck, the dynamics change. The bass sounds tumble, Rupp explodes as if Cecil Taylor was playing guitar and Mahall murmurs in the depths of his instrument, he groans, but also dares to make longer runs and sprinkles in a melody here and there. The whole thing is a zigzag run, you never know where it will go.

Skyhook consists of twelve tracks, the titles are cut up from the sentence Es ist ebenso vernünftig, eine Art Gefangenschaft durch eine andere darzustellen, wie irgendetwas, was wirklich existiert, durch etwas, was nicht existiert (It is as reasonable to represent one kind of captivity by another as it is to represent anything that really exists by something that does not). Albert Camus had borrowed it as the epigraph for his novel The Plague, it’s actually from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Oran, the city on the Algerian coast where Camus’s novel is set, soon becomes an island, an isolated space - like Robinson’s island. Apart from the fact that the music becomes a metaphor for what’s going on around us there is a also another connection: The album was recorded at Au Topsi Pohl, a venue of the Echtzeit network in Berlin, which unfortunately is soon closing down but which was itself has been an island for free improvisation.

The title of the album refers to a figure from freestyle snowboarding. Rupp says that it somehow makes sense because making music is often a kind of throwing stones into the sky. And it symbolizes optimism. And even if he mentioned that as to his standards the recording was not quite perfect in terms of sound, I must say that I can’t hear any shortcomings. Rupp said that he, Mahall and Roder wanted to release the album because they liked the music so much. Me too.

Skyhook is available as a CD. You can buy it from Olaf Rupp’s Bandcamp site. 

P.S.: The pigeon on the cover was sitting on Olaf Rupp’s kitchen shelf on the first day of the 2020 lockdown and was very tame and obviously used to people. She has been coming to visit the guitarist every day since then. He feeds her a few sunflower seeds and gives her some water and then she sits on the window ledge looking out into the yard. Since she is a competition pigeon, she has rings on her legs, so he was able to track her back to the neighboring town to where Rudi Mahall lives. Thus, she became the cover girl for the album.