Both in concept and content, this CD of the German composer Nicole Johänntgen’s music breathes fresh new life into the second line genre. There is, thanks to some fine writing and performing, the implicit suggestion that mainstream New Orleans music can benefit from even someone as far removed as Fischbach (South Germany) is from NOLA. This is superb recording, from the performances of Johänntgen’s American cohort – Jon Ramm (trombone), Steven Glenn (sousaphone) and Paul Thibodeaux (drums) – but it is first and foremost Johänntgen’s arresting marches and dirges that take centre-stage.
What puts this music into distinct perspective is Nicole Johänntgen’s judicious sense of pacing, which is often more spacious than usually encountered. In her marches – ‘Henry’ and ‘NOLA’ – the broad tempi pay especially fine dividends. The magnificent dirge ‘Slowly’ features felicities of colour, texture and mood that its composer so carefully delineates. The softer passages have a silvery shimmer that make the song’s performance almost impossible to forget. ‘Take the Steam Train’ comes alive as the organic components brought in by the other players are melded masterfully into the power and ethereal beauty of Johänntgen’s alto saxophone. She plays with grace as well as rhythmic animation and it is this aspect of her playing that prevents the much smaller alto from being swollowed up by the powerful sound of the Glenn’s sousaphone and Ramm’s trombone. For the record, Paul Thibodeaux is no slouch in his kit either.
As second lines go there is no hero (or heroine, in this case), but when the need arises, Nicole Johänntgen does rise to the occasion. Her playing is always articulate and well-woven into the conversation that takes place between the other players in the quartet. It is a performance such as this, not only by Nicole Johänntgen, but by the other members of the band as well, which contributes to making Henry a most desirable record. However, it is only natural to give special praise to Nicole Johänntgen, who brings the music of Henry to life with her wonderfully melodic writing. A first-class record in every way.
Track List: Henry; Oh Yes My Friend; NOLA; Slowly; The Kids from New Orleans; They Missed Love; Take the Steam Train.
Personnel: Nicole Johänntgen: alto saxophone; Jon Ramm: trombone; Steven Glenn: sousaphone; Paul Thibodeaux: drums.
Running time: 37:29