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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Die Enttäuschung - The Komplette / Music Minus One / Monk's Casino

Die Enttäuschung - The Komplette (Two Nineteen Records, 2023)

Could there be a more perfect pairing of art and music then between the record sleeve design and the music of Die Enttäuschung, a long standing group whose members are central to the Berlin jazz scene? I'm leafing through the Die Komplette, a catalog of cover art and more from all of the groups recordings along with many other works. The catalog is subtitled "Handarbeitsbuch von Katja Mahall," and it also comes with a CD of new music from the group.

To call it a "handicraft book" is an undersell. Yes, the artwork is the work of precise hand crafting but the result is not a potpourri sachet or draft-stopper. The work of Katja Mahal, spouse of Die Enttäuschung's clarinetist Rudi Mahall, is much more. Each page contains a rich array of images, hand cut from magazines, newspapers, photos and maybe even the television (ok, maybe not cut from, but at least one is arranged in one). The collages have adorned a recording from the band starting with their first self-titled recording in 1996, continuing through their second self-titled CD in 2004, then through their series of releases on Intakt, and now over the very active past few years with not only Die Enttäuschung releases but also related groups like Monk's Casino, a duo album from pianist Aki Takase and Rudi Mahall, and several others.

The art is absorbing. One could link it to the Dadist college techniques (like Hanna Höch or John Heartfeld), but it's certainly more colorful, with many figures, items (like sausages), and incongruous juxtapositions of words. Above all, the art is playful and unforgiving. It's just like the music on the accompanying CD, which takes elements of jazz from throughout its history - early jazz, swing (lots of swing, really), free jazz, modern jazz, and standards - and mixes it into a wildly rhythmic and accessible bricolage of musical inventiveness.

Take track one from Die Komplette, 'Im Zwinger' - it's only 48 seconds, but we hear Rudi Mahall's acerbic clarinet playing a fastidious little melody with fastidious accompaniment from trumpeter Axel Dörner, bassist Jan Roder and drummer Michael Griener. Then, "Bulyah-Dath," a tune penned by Griener that begins with a phrase that sounds exactly like a bass-clarinet and a trumpet saying the title in tandem and unraveling from there into a prism of energetic melodic statements. It goes on, like for example the Dörner penned 'Gekannt' is an engagingly elastic rendering of time and tempo with a minimalist melodic head, unexpected form, and highly intervallic soloing.

It should be noted that the music on Die Komplette are re-recordings of their music from their now 30-year career as a band. It almost comes as an afterthought though, as these tunes are just as fresh now as they ever were. There have also been changes in the band over the years, the original drummer Uli Jenneseen was replaced was Greiner in 2017, and trombonist Christof Thewes was a part of the group for a bit. It also seems that Jan Roder has taken a liking to electric bass in addition to his exceptional double bass playing.

If you are able to get your hands on Die Komplette (which should be possible via Bandcamp) it's worth it, the catalog is a smorgasbord of sights and sounds and a great chance to see Katja Mahall's artwork collected together and appropriately sized - CD cases are great, but the larger format of the book give them some room to come to life.

Die Enttäuschung - Music Minus One (Two Nineteen Records, 2023)

Die Enttäuschung's more proper latest release is Music Minus One - a play on the well known Music Minus One series of educational materials that lets the learner play along to their favorite orchestra or jazz combo - but here likely referring to the fact that they were back to quartet, minus Christof Thewes (he was on the previous recording, 2017's Lavaman). The group doesn't miss a beat though, and the music is as ironic and iconoclastic as it is buoyant and hopeful.

The first track is entitled "Ich stand im Stau" - which translates to, I was stuck in traffic, and it is one of six titles that seem to be common excuses. There is also "Ich hatte zu viel zu tun" - I had to much to do - and "Ich hatte den Kopf nicht frei" - I didn't have a clear head - and "Ich bin nicht dazu gekommen" - I didn't get around to it - and finally "Da fang ich morgen mit an" - I will start tomorrow. (Note, I'm not counting "Verzögerung im Betriebsablauf" - a delay in operating processes - this is more or less an excuse reserved for the German train company). What these songs have in common (aside from Rudi Mahall's acerbic wit with the names) is that much like the rest of the album, there is no excuses at all: each and every one is defiantly alive and full of unrelenting energy.

The first one ('Stau') is from the get-go is alight with rhythmic flow and stranded cables of melody. Mahall takes the first solo on bass clarinet, replete with his signature acidic tone and be-bop influenced lines. Dörner follows on trumpet, his tone a bit warmer, and seemingly drawing on more of a hard-bop influence. Then, bassist Jan Roder's takes a short solo along with the comping from the others - he's a bit back in the mix, but one can hear his robust lines flowing fluidly across the fingerboard. Some epoxies require the mixing of two compounds to achieve holding strength and along with Roder's bass work, drummer Michel Griener is the other ingredient. He provides a relentless swing and accentuated motion to the tunes. The other songs on the recording are all formed from these components, from shrill dissonance to intoxicating counter-melodic passages, and more.

Simply put, Die Enttäuschung does not disappoint on this latest installment.

Monk's Casino - live at AuTopsi Pohl (Two Nineteen Records, 2023)

Monk's Casino is Die Enttäuschung plus Alexander von Schlippenbach. The venerated German pianist has long explored Monk's repertoire, recording albums of his music and generally synthesizing the compositions into his playing. Monk's music is also where Die Enttäuschung started, their first album Die Enttäuschung (Two Nineteen, 1996) is comprised entirely of Monk's compositions, but played in a quartet whose instrumentation was more like the Ornette Coleman's classic one.

Together with Schlippenbach, their first recording was The Complete Works of Thelonious Monk from 2005 on Intakt Records. The 3-CD collection is (or should be) a modern classic. Reverent of Monk's beguiling tunes, the music is arranged and delivered with a slight irreverence that lets the music live and breath. The release was recorded live at Berlin's A-Trane jazz club.

This update, 2022's Live at AuTopsi Pohl, is also a live recording from a Berlin club, unfortunately one that is now sadly closed. The group is not offering the complete discography this time, but rather a selective update to the tunes and spirit that permeated the original concept. The challenging but cozy confines of the former AuTopsi club is now things of legend, but one can imagine the celebrated Schlippenbach at the upright piano off to one side of the narrow stage while the others likely spilled out into the crowded audience space. Those same space constraints also likely made for the wonderful, lively sound. The exposed brick walls and high ceilings provided a resonant chamber for the powerful but slinky arrangements to fill.

Katja Mahall's cover art, of course, fits perfectly. In addition to images of the musicians in action, she plays with scale, history and cultural touchpoints in fun and provocative arrangements.

This one is hard to get. It's LP only, available at gigs and from Bandcamp in Europe. According to Bandcamp, the Texas based label Astral Spirits sold it in the US and Canada, but it is currently sold out. However, Jazzpreis, a duo recording from Rudi Mahall and Michel Griener, from 2022, is available and also highly recommended.