Monday, July 11, 2022

CD Reviews: Lisbeth Quartett - Release / Punkt.Vrt.Plastik- Zurich Concert

Lisbeth Quartett

Alto saxophonist Charlotte Greve has been involved in a number of musical projects both in her new home of Brooklyn home as well as her birthplace of Germany. (Her native country recently lauded her with the Deutscher Jazzpreis Artist of the Year award.) Her Lisbeth Quartett project began a dozen years ago back home, with five albums already to their credit. Release arrives after a five-year hiatus during which the saxophonist worked on a few other projects. 

Greve chooses her lines thoughtfully, as if she's in the midst of a deep meditation. She might not blow hard or cut loose, but she can wail, sliding easily into the upper register of her horn. Pianist Manuel Schiedel locks in with her on "Le Mistral" where both peel off rapid lines in unison with ease. Greve follows with a solo that begins in short clusters of phrases that become lines that float away gently. If her playing sometimes feel spare, she balances things with a strong, crystal-clear tone. It might contrast with the swampy inspiration for "Bayou" but that two-movement track offers one of the highlights of the album.

After launching "Bayou" with splashes across his kit, drummer Moritz Baumgärtner deliberately shifts between backbeats and offbeats during the second part of the piece, to keep things unsettling. In "Arrow" bassist Marc Muellbauer practically solos beneath Schmiedel's piano solo, which pushes the energy along and without making things sound too busy.

The loose, flowing quality of the Lisbeth Quartett sometimes evokes Paul Motian's work as a leader, an observation I noticed on Greve's album with Vinnie Sperrazza and Chris Tordini. This comes in to play during "Full Circling" where Greve repeats a series of circular five-note lines as the rhythm section unfolds, piano and bass eventually joining her

"Outro" closes the album with the saxophonist alone, her lines echoing off a mountain top behind her. (Could it be a siren call to ECM? The group would sound right at home on that imprint.) It's a fitting sign-off but much like the title track, which precedes it, there feels like something more could have come from the group - more of a climax or, to extend the meditation idea, more insight as a result of that reflection. Nevertheless, the time away has done nothing to keep these four from developing strong interactions, which often feel gentle on the surface, but driving and intense beneath the surface.

Zurich Concert

Punkt.Vrt.Plastik started out as a 2018 album by Kaja Draksler (piano), Petter Eldh (bass) and Christain Lillinger (drums). But two albums later, it's safe to say that the album title has become synonymous with this band of feisty European players. I've listened to a bit of their other two albums in a noble but futile attempt to keep up their label's vast output. Hearing the live Zurich Concert set indicates that it's time to go back and do a dive into their previous releases. The fire started onstage at unerhӧrt!-Festival provided the perfect blend of manic Euro free improv, along with the knack at keeping a groove somewhere at the heart of it.

"Body Decline - Natt Raum" (two separate compositions by Eldh, played together) presents a good example of the trio's cohesion. Draksler begins slowly in leaps up the keyboard and eventually Eldh starts pedaling a steady line. When Lillinger joins in with a ride cymbal groove, punctuated by a fast set of rolls, the pianist begins twirling over them until all three of them finally come together in a section that isn't quite 4/4. The way they play, it sounds like they're not even sure of a time signature but they're having fun tripping up over it. The sense of esprit de corps can be heard more apparently in other tracks on the album, when members of the band burst out in a laugh in the middle of a performance.

The speed and visceral feeling of the music might account for the first part of the band's moniker, as they feel like a punk trio. Tight editing makes everything run together like a suite, not even leaving space for applause. All three compose individually for the group, with Lillinger submitting more than half of the album. Moods vary with each piece, ensuring that the band never stays on one idea long enough to wear it out, not do they embark on any Cecil Taylor-esque excursions for too long either. 

To that end, it should be noted how distinct Draksler's performance sounds throughout the album. Even at her freest, she knows exactly where she wants her fingers to land. At several moments during the set, she gets a sound out of her piano that resembles bells, with pitches bending slightly. Equal mention should be given to Eldh too, who is equally versed in jerky tense lines ("Nuremburg Amok") and angular leading lines created when Draksler feeds him chords ("Amnion"). 

All the compositions on Zurich Concert appeared on both of their previous albums, but as Alexander Hawkins states in the liner notes, things transpired onstage that were much different than what happened in the studio. This is a great place to start for those who haven't heard the trio before. 

No comments: