It is one thing to talk about the legacy of the 60’s avant-garde ‘pioneers’. It is quite another to present it as a received tradition, where younger composers clearly draw from their elders. If these diverse pieces offer any overriding theme, it’s that Albert Ayler, the AACM and other musicians who extrapolated on the music of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane – as well as composers from Stravinsky to Stockhausen were hardly solitary mavericks but rather points in a parallel sound world where European musical traditions were merely one influence among many.
Whether you start with the microtonal leanings of Joe Hertenstein where evocative percussion timbres keep bass player Pascal Niggenkemper and cornetist Thomas Heberer’s lyrical playing in constant focus, the musical values are a world away from Europe. There are exceptions, however, and the obvious Germanic titles of Würste & Sozialsysteme and Glutamat & Menschenrechte give the game away. But other music on this extraordinary disc, HNH, an acronym from the names of the three musicians, might be closer to that world away in America and the music that exploded not only with the then jazz avant-garde but also from the music of John Cage and Henry Cowell, Harry Partch, Charles Ives and Carl Ruggles. Mr. Hertenstein has sympathetic interpreters in Pascal Niggenkemper and Thomas Heberer who imbue his work with solid virtuosity, a strong sense of long lines and a keen ear for textural variety.
Joe Hertenstein seems to have mined the possibilities of all of that music pitting the disparate timbres of bass violin and cornet (brass) against percussion. On HNH he pushes this idea to its logical and imaginative conclusion. By juxtaposing the almost vocal quality of the bowed strings and plucked ones with the sharp attacks and quick decay of percussion, each of the composer’s work here manages to keep (each) solo instrument in the heat of the moment and in the best possible light. Both cornet and, because it is almost naked as well, the double bass – an instrument whose lower register tends to get swallowed up in more traditional settings – makes it through this percussion trio without ever leaving centre stage.
The rather spare music is mesmerising. The three musicians all ring the most modern bells throughout. Possibly the most illuminating aspect of all of the disc’s offering is the myriad of contrasts of tonal colour and harmonic language and all of this grasps the human ear with spectacular sharpness and heat. All of the pieces require utmost precision of pitch, seamless unfolding of lines and clarity of texture for the music to work its wonders on the mind’s ear. Despite the predominant heaviness of the bass throughout the cornet always emerges with special purity and radiance and inner voices emerge or blend with magisterial refinement.
You hear all of this throughout the disc. Sometimes the melodic lines are long and loping, launched either by the bass played con arco or by the floating cornet. The drum lines, however, are short and seem to punctuate the longer ones with musical ellipses. Emotions which simmer just below the surface of the music are poignant. All of this is presented in a musical language in which I revelled, by virtue of the sweeping tonal landscape that is a delight for the ear.
Track List: Würste & Sozialsysteme; Threefold Collision 1; Pitch; Backwards; Glutamat & Menschenrechte; Centerpeace; Threefold Collision 2; Let’s Flee; Nine; Man on Wire; Loose Ends.
Personnel: Joe Hertenstein: drums; Pascal Niggenkemper: bass; Thomas Heberer: cornet.
Label: Clean Feed
Release date: November 2015
Running time: 51:43
About Joe Hertenstein
Here it is, the follow-up HNH album we hoped for so long. Joe Hertenstein’s trio with the surname initials of the three German musicians living in New York: Joe Hertenstein, Pascal Niggenkemper and Thomas Heberer. And indeed it’s a special album and the new music is quite different from their debut disc we released in 2010. From the beginning HNH was mixing the Big Apple feeling and the European gusto to turn things upside down. It grabs you from the beginning, the energy, the sound, the interplay. Read more…