The pan-European quartet Die Hochstapler (The Impostors in German) - French alto sax player Pierre Borel and trumpeter Louis Laurain, Italian double bass player Antonio Borghini and German drummer and vibes player Hannes Lingens, was founded in 2011 and since then has been developing a distinct style based on collective composition and radical and often eccentric individual dynamics. Die Hochstapler’s music is created collectively in extensive rehearsal periods where the repertoire grows and renews itself constantly. Typical for a band that dedicated its debut album, The Braxtornette Project (Umalut, 2014), to the music and philosophies of both Anthony Braxton and Ornette Coleman (and inventing on its sophomore album the alter-ego of mysterious Chicagoan musician, linguist and mathematician Alvin P. Buckley), poetry, alphabets and game structures serve as a basis for the common memory basket from which the four musicians are drawing in every performance in a new and unpredictable way.
Now, four years after the release of Die Hochstapler’s third album, The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog (Umlaut, 2018), the quartet cooked a two-course menu out of its February 2022 residency at the now legendary Berlin venue Au Topsi Pohl. The first album Beauty Lies documents the quartet afternoon performance, without an audience, playing 25 short pieces (the shortest last only four seconds, the longest is about ten minutes), almost without any improvisation. This album is a kind of a straightforward catalog of Die Hochstapler’s collective and individual languages developed throughout the quartet’s decade-long work. The well-crafted and notated music swings - often, literally - back and forth between early be-bop and fragmented Monk-ish ideas to Coleman’s harmolodics and Braxton-like complex musical systems. It is performed with playful irony (and check titles like “Squid Pro Quo” and “How Many Hairs”) and an amused nostalgic feel, with one dadaist song sung unassumingly by Laurain, “Beuty Lies Within”. Die Hochstapler plays these simple ideas with a strong sense of invention and precision, but with no attachment, just articulating the idea and moving on, but always highlighting its fast and razor-sharp, almost telepathic dynamics.
Within was recorded live in front of an intimate enthusiastic audience. Now Die Hochstapler’s fast and razor-sharp, profound almost telepathic dynamics are employed for a free improvised set, but still using the quartet’s game structures, alphabets and morse code, but, obviously, in a less disciplined manner than Beauty Lies. Listening to this album is like taking a wild and hyperactive ride in a musical park full of shiny attractions. You may acquire a better insight of Die Hochstapler’s leaderless, wise but intuitive free-improvised dynamics, its passionate yet complex pool of game-like tactics, and the way this quartet embraces surprising, labyrinthian detours, sometimes just for the sake of it. Die Hochstapler is not shy about experimenting with cerebral, minimalist new music, openly emotional music, dramatic pathos, swinging joyfully, or exploring challenging rhythmic patterns. Die Hochstapler constantly juggles a few musical cards in the air, alternating restlessly between free associative improvisions and its own kind of instant composing that incorporates a few recurring themes, but always lands on its tight feet.
A provocative but stimulating musical feast.