Review: Gert Dudek and the Hans Koller Trio

Gerd Dudek. Drawing by Geoff Winston.
Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

Gerd Dudek with the Hans Koller Trio
(Vortex, Sunday 29 January 2012; final night of Evan Parker’s ‘Might I Suggest …’ curated season at the Vortex; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Sunday’s concert at the Vortex was the perfect counterpoint to the season’s opening night. Whereas Systems Quartetreviewed here – had been wilfully off-beat, this closing night of the six brought to the fore both Gerd Dudek‘s masterly affirmation of the power of the saxophone, and proof of the richness of the contemporary jazz compositional legacy. Furthermore. the contrast between the two demonstrated quite how broad Evan Parker‘s range of interests is. The series had been made possible thanks to the London office of the Goethe Institute, and this final night was being recorded for future broadcast by Cologne’s WDR.

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Dudek is a pearl of a player – well respected in Germany, with his roots in its burgeoning free-jazz scene of the 60s, but over here virtually unknown. He was recorded only for the first time as leader, in a similarly classic setting, by Parker for his psi label in 1998 (‘smatter by Gerd Dudek, psi 02.01). What is surprising and somewhat disarming, given his early musical associations, is what a mellow, thoughtful and serene player he is. He and Koller’s exemplary trio worked off sheet music, travelling unflinchingly through the changes of early Shorter, Coltrane, Dameron, Monk and Ornette.

Dudek’s playing is characterised by intense currents of rippled phrasing and a tonal consistency that has affinities with Charles Lloyd and Stan Getz, roots that hark back to Coltrane, and a robust side that hints at Rollins. There is a gravity and serenity to his delivery – mellifluous, meditational and steeped in a deep understanding of both the heritage and its possibilities. One sensed the perfectionist, with an acute sense of detail, modest yet carefree when the timing suited, at one with his instruments.

On soprano for Coltrane’s ‘Central Park West’, he built on the flowing tenor passages unleashed in the opener, Shorter’s ‘Blues à la Carte’. Koller expressed with some amusement, his mild embarrassment at springing the complexities of Herbie Nichols’s ‘Step Tempest’ on him at such short notice, but Dudek took it in his stride, gluing together the theme and the variations with an effortless panache, introducing a hint of bluesy tenor as he got to grips with it.

Throughout, Koller’s trio were disciplined, fresh, with a keen understanding of the repertoire. Hayhurst’s tender bass solos, Calderazzo’s disciplined, muscular interventions and Koller’s bright explorations created a well-textured platform for Dudek.

It was Ornette’s ‘Congeniality’, the second number in the second set, that brought out the tougher side of this gentle giant – with Calderazzo and Hayhurst blowing up a storm, its curves, bends and chicanes were negotiated with fierce expressive resolve as Dudek flew, breaking with its tight structure. Moving away from the essential foil provided through both sets, Koller’s spiky solo saw a quirky, unpredictable exploration combining a spacious quality with a light wit, to which Dudek added a thoughtful, melancholic twist.

Bowing out with a jaunty take on Coltrane’s ’26-2′, Dudek wore his brilliance with characteristic modesty, bringing the ‘Might I suggest …’ season to a close with these German, British and American musicians in fittingly harmonious alignment.

Gerd Dudek: tenor and soprano saxes
Hans Koller: piano
Oli Hayhurst: bass
Gene Calderazzo: drums


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