May 1, 2014 3:37 pm

Michael Wollny Trio, Vortex Jazz Club, London – review

The German pianist’s new outfit has an impressive sound and draws on a wide array of influences
Michael Wollny on stage at the Vortex Jazz Club©David Sinclair

Michael Wollny on stage at the Vortex Jazz Club

Michael Wollny has built his reputation on strong rhythms, intricate arrangements and a broad sweep of influences. He came to notice with the piano trio [em], but this gig presented the German pianist’s new trio and their first CD Weltentraum. But old songs were in the mix, and the earlier model’s well-worked routines and intense internal dialogues, as well as [em]’s drummer Eric Schaefer, remained the same.

Thus the first set opened with a devious twist-and-turn arrangement of Berg’s “Nacht” and later The Flaming Lips’ “Be Free, A Way” loped sedately with a cowboy beat. There were segues themed on sorrow and night and a raft of originals that morphed in mood and darted this way and that.


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Though the gig was episodic, Wollny’s musical vision and his extraordinarily close musical relationship with Schaefer held it all together. And even though Swiss bassist Christian Weber was new to the group, the trio impressively turned from swishy ballad to punk-thrash mayhem at a moment’s notice.

Most impressive, though, was the trio’s sound. Weber has a lovely, rich tone and a strong, but not over-forceful attack on double bass. This sat perfectly with Schaefer’s loose-skinned tuning and tight cymbal play. As Weber marked the opening cadences of “Nacht”, Schaefer skittered on drums and added the tinkle of a bell. Later, dramatic rumbles of drums punctuated abstract blasts of bowed bass, single notes hovered sonorously under a fast and supple swing, and off-kilter riffs accelerated towards Armageddon. In the second set, a segue of two sad love songs, the German folk song “The Millstone” and Schubert’s “Ihr Bild”, ended with poised hip-hop bass and a rattle of snare.

Wollny’s piano style matches the impressionist nature of his compositions. Scatterings of sparse chords are plainly stated, firm eight-in-the-bar thumps follow the harmonic line and clever things are done to the strings inside the piano. The only explicit jazz reference was a cover of Joachim Kühn’s “More Tuna”, where a single-note pedal built into a pulsating epic. The jazz pulse, though, was always present, and if the flow was somewhat fragmented, set-piece fireworks compensated and won the encore, a gentle fade-away ballad “Little Person”.

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