sun 25/09/2022

Album: Julia Hülsmann Quartet - The Next Door | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Julia Hülsmann Quartet - The Next Door

Album: Julia Hülsmann Quartet - The Next Door

Top-flight German jazz quartet finds freedom and natural flow

'The band can take clarity, transparency, openness and trust - and freedom - to astonishing levels'Thomas Wunsch / ECM

Not every musician has friends in high places in quite the way German jazz pianist and composer Julia Hülsmann does these days.

A few weeks ago she played a private concert at the invitation of the German Head of State. Bundespräsident Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a proud and self-confessed jazz fan, has started what he calls his own “little tradition” of hosting jazz concerts outdoors in the gardens of Schloss Bellevue in Berlin, the official residence of the President. Hülsmann was host/curator of the most recent of those concert evenings, in early July.

To see jazz music, which is most at home in tiny settings where there is a genuine immediacy of communication, music which often speaks of the experience of the marginal and the marginalised as something which can genuinely touch the hearts and minds of politicians is unusual, to say the least, and in many countries unimaginable. The German historical context is, of course, different. As Steinmeier explained in his speech on the occasion, at a crucial moment in Germany’ history, jazz was “the music of the liberators and the music of freedom”.

And then there is also the particular appeal of Julia Hülsmann’s music. The band on her new album is her regular quartet which tours a lot and can therefore take clarity, transparency, openness and trust – and freedom – to astonishing levels. 

As she reflects, with typical lucidity, in the text accompanying this new release for ECM, her eighth for the label, “We’ve had time to further develop our rapport as a quartet and, as a result, our interplay has become even more intuitive.”

Her last album on ECM was Not Far From Here (2019), made shortly after the addition of saxophonist Ulli Kempendorff to her regular, long-standing trio with bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling. The feeling that this group has progressed and can now find all kinds of different ways to create a convincing flow and narrative, is palpable.

The starting point might be a melody to be expressed and embellished, as in Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows in April”, which brings beautiful and delicate balladry. The idea of stopping and starting, engaging and disengaging, permeates “Lightcap.” The range of inspiration is refreshingly broad, too: “Valdemossa” has a lyricism which is clearly inspired by Chopin’s E minor Prelude, but bassist Marc Muellbauer has written a slightly quirkier melody for it.

The sound by La Buissonne Studios head Gérard de Haro is superb, particularly the way the sound of Kempendorff’s saxophone, reminiscent of that of his one-time New York mentor Tony Malaby, has been caught. Producer is Thomas Herr, with ECM since 2013 and increasingly active as producer for the label, who also produced this quartet's first album. Recommended.

@sebscotney

Watch the Julia Hülsmann Quartet perform "Made of Wood"

The range of Hülsmann's inspiration is refreshingly broad

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