Review: Bruno Heinen Sextet – Stockhausen’s Tierkreis

Bruno Heinen Sextet – Tierkreis
 10th September 2012. Review by Rob Edgar)

To some, a mention of the name Stockhausen conjures up images of relentless and unforgiving mathematical music; so controlled as to be stifling both for performer and listener. What is less well known is that Stockhausen also had a far less rigid side: some compositions like last night’s Tierkreis give only the bare elements of melody and harmony, one of the few stipulations being that each melody must be played three times before the movement is over but allowing for intense improvisation putting the composer and the performer on an equal footing.

Originally written for music boxes (although any instrumentation is permitted), each of the twelve movements corresponds to a zodiac sign. This is the first jazz-oriented arrangement to be produced and Bruno Heinen is the perfect person to have done so having a deep knowledge both of jazz and the music of Stockhausen (Heinen’s parents studied with the composer in the 70’s). His arrangement actually uses four of the original music boxes created by Stockhausen but Heinen has completely re-worked the music; what we heard on the night were his and the sextet’s reaction to Stockhausen’s blueprints.

The musicians had ample room to shine, each performer having one movement as a solo. In Virgo the concentrated interplay between the music box and Jack Davies on trumpet was mirrored by drummer Jon Scott in the opening of Libra. Despite a problem with the microphone in picking up the music box, Scott persevered admirably taking little rhythmic “moments” (as Stockhausen would define them) from the box and transferring them to the drums giving it a cellular form before the group burst into a fiery Scorpio where we heard, for the first time, James Allsopp on bass clarinet and tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger. They tore through the music in their solos owing a debt it seemed to Sun Ra in some of his more experimental moods but with the ever-pervading atmosphere of Stockhausen behind them, Scott providing a Elvin Jones style groove underneath.

Bassist Andrea Di Biase brought us his interpretation of Saggitarius with an extended bass solo savoring parallel 4ths, and harmonics, followed a couple of movements later with an almost impressionistic solo piano version of Aquarius.

Instructions to the band for improvisation were simply to use their ears and intuition when taking a solo, which gave a delightful contrast between the 12 note rows and their consequences when filtered through the sextet. It also brought to the fore the idea that this piece was built on tone rows – but with tonal centres. The musicians (whether consciously or not) picked up on combinations that could have been considered modal or pentatonic and developed them according to their own experiences.

Stockhausen designed this piece so as to be different with each performance; this was perhaps the biggest new breath of life Tierkreis has been given for quite some time.

Tierkreis will be released in March 2013 on the Babel label. For more information on Heinen’s projects and to listen to samples of the album go to HIS WEBSITE

Bruno Heinen – piano/music box

James Allsopp – bass clarinet

Jack Davies – trumpet

Tom Challenger – tenor sax

Andrea Di Biase – bass

Jon Scott – drums

Categories: miscellaneous

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