David Helbock has proved, with each new record, that he is not only one of the most gifted pianists, but also one of the most important young musicians to come emerge from Austria; indeed Europe too. There are many reasons for this. He is unafraid to push the envelope as a pianist, playing with majestic technique and expression on the keyboard and with considerable invention inside the piano as well. His writing is sublime and never fails to surprise and when he plays the music of others you never know what to expect because of his chameleonic character always emerges as he interprets the music of his peers and elders in each new studio or live performance. This one on Tour D’Horizon from Brubeck to Zawinul is no exception.
It helps that the words “interpretation” and “invention” go hand in hand whenever David Helbock brings music and musicians together. This group, Random Control (the very name suggests the almost “dangerously unexpected”), is a perfect example of how perfectly in tune his colleagues – Andreas Broger and Johannes Bär – are to his (Mr Helbock’s) vision and artistry. Yet somehow that is never sufficient for Mr Helbock. So, not only are the other members of his trio supreme virtuoso musicians, but also blessed – each in his own way – with enough wit and daring to stretch their playing and to take the music to the extreme lengths, no matter where this will take them. Always, this is, of course, a rarefied realm, as this music suggests.
Also, it bears mention that every once and a while a musician stops to pay homage to the elders who have inspired him. However, many times – especially recently – tributes turn out to be rather dull and although technically excellent, they are uninspired. But Mr Helbock’s tribute to music from Brubeck to Zawinul is full of surprise. In 1978, Heiner Stadler created perhaps the most iconic tribute music ever, with his A Tribute to Bird and Monk and while “tribute music” made ever since in homage to Jazz ancestors may never quite equal that 1978 recording, this one by David Helbock’s Random Control from Brubeck to Zawinul seems to have been created with a similar daring. It certainly strikes one as being almost as memorable.
The wonderful, haunting beauty of Abdullah Ibrahim’s “African Marketplace”, Josef Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” and the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Take Five” – well, Paul Desmond’s actually – might never be repeated again after this recording. Neither will the wit and genius of the group’s re-invention of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” (the Headhunters version, which features some breathtaking work on sousaphone by Mr Bär, who alternates his blowing with quite magical beat-boxing, while Mr Broger also dazzles on soprano and tenor saxophones). Also unforgettable (probably for an eternity) are these beautifully sculpted versions of the adagio movement of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” and Chick Corea’s response in “Spain”; the sustained inventions of both are dazzling and it is also a stroke of bold genius to place them back to back on the disc.
Best of all, of course, is the pianism of David Helbock. His is a magical and mysterious relationship with the keyboard; one in which between the way each finger depresses each piano key and the effect that has on the complex mechanics of the instrument is a masterclass in careful (not at all “random” in this case) control of nuance and ineffable beauty.
Track list – 1: African Marketplace; 2: Seven Days of Falling; 3: Concierto de Aranjuez – Adagio; 4: Spain; 5: In a Sentimental Mood; 6: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy; 7: Blue in Green; 8: Watermelon Man; 9: My Song; 10: Utviklingssang; 11: Bolivia; 12: Take Five
Personnel – David Helbock: piano, electronics and percussion; Andreas Broger: soprano and tenor saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, recorder, flugelhorn, electronics and percussion; Johannes Bär: trumpet, flugelhorn, bass flugelhorn, sousaphone, tube, alphorn, beatbox, didgeridoo, electronics and percussion
Released – 2018
Label – ACT Music + Vision (ACT 98692)
Runtime – 49:56