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David Helbock: Pianist

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David Helbock: Musician and Pianist
Reinhold Schmölzer, David Helbock and Raphael Preuschi
How about the sound that a whole symphony orchestra can produce and then some…? His discs list him as playing piano. But it’s so much more than that. The music on Think of Two his appreciation of the music of Thelonious Monk and Hermeto Pascoal is but one example of David Helbock’s ability to make the piano bend to his will. In the process he brings new, symphonic meaning to Monk’s music. In the interpretations of Pascoal’s music we find Helbock re-decorating the choro, maracatu, forro, frevo and every other madcap form that Hermeto Pascoal imitates in his own music. In Purple David Helbock made a musical shrine to Prince. However, if you didn’t know Purple Rain then you might have missed the reference to Prince, even in “1999” or “Purple Rain” or “Cream” or “Diamonds and Pearls” which is the most obvious one and appears in no less than four different versions (and in broad hints and quotations throughout) on this disc. But then Helbock can make even Franz Schubert and Henry Purcell sound a myriad different ways; that’s just how (Helbock) plays the piano as he reaches deep into the furthest repositories of sound. The potential for this construction is best shown in “2903” which opens his album What’s Next? I Don’t Know. a duo recording with trumpeter Lorenz Raab.

Here David Helbock constantly challenges the very idea of music using randomness (as he did on Think of Two) as a basis for composition, all but doctoring instruments (again) to produce new sonorities, and including the widest array of sounds in his works. It seems Helbock wants to break down the barrier between art and life, not to bring order out of chaos, but simply to wake up to the very life that we are living. This journey continues on Into the Mystic and is best documented on his “Exodus To Star Wars” cycle in which he exploits a wide range of sonorities, some bright and bell-like, others more delicate and subdued. Rhythmic motifs and patterns recur in other works, such as “Spiritual Monk” and “A Child is Born”, producing incantory and hypnotic qualities close to that of seraphim at times. In “The Soul” it’s as if Boulez and Stockhausen were writing at the same time, but the spirit is worlds away from their violence and hyper-complexity. “Into the Mystic” is the grand opus of the disc. Taken together with “Mother Earth” it would seem to be a work generated from maps of the world and of stars, with constellations transformed into patterns of notes.

The positioning of Helbock’s angular, scattering notes is technically challenging, implying the importance of practicing each part to perfection. But then it seems as if in the studio the players are wired to a network of microphones that are switched off and on at random. From the listeners’ perspective, however, the gorgeously untidy counterpoint of so many notes colliding and dovetailing at random can be thrilling, provoking a liberated sound plasma that even subjective compositional choice would have been unlikely to stumble across. Is there a David Helbock that we don’t yet know? The answer to that is “Quite possibly. But we will never know.” Meanwhile the pianist continues to surprise even himself. David Helbock’s Personal Realbook is a fascinating documentary of a year in the life of a practising musician. A composition for every day of the year; it is as if Helbock is exploring the possibility of creating a musical “Tower of Babel”. Certainly it is a monumental edifice made up of notes – black dots that leap off the pages, assuming the form of subtly changing textures whose component parts flow seamlessly in and out of each other.

The impact of David Helbock’s Personal Realbook is overwhelming: one moment its music seems to evoke an enormous piano that changes shape and form in order to make its music come alive. Colour and texture are everything: there are no silences, instead the music is punctuated by a series of enormous crescendos. Sometimes the notes come in clusters with chords made up of closely adjacent notes, built up gradually in overlapping layers of music. But still there is a sense of sculpted sound but the combination of instrumental timbres is often radiantly beautiful, suggesting something bejewelled and glowing to be sung or played on your piano…music that is quintessentially David Helbock.

Jazzhead 2017

From Into the Mystic

David Helbock – solopiano

David Helbock and Lorenz Raab

David Helbock’s Random/Control

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