CD Review Trio Elf: Amsterdam
(Enja ENJ 9602 2. CD Review by Alison Bentley)
There`s nothing elfin about the German Trio Elf. They call themselves ‘drum `n` bass `n` piano’, and the name comes from the initials of their surnames: Gerwin Eisenhauer (drums), Walter Lang (piano), and Sven Faller (double bass). This CD is a live recording of a gig in Amsterdam`s Bimhuis in February this year, with pieces taken from their studio albums. Their fourth member is sound engineer Mario Sutel, who helps create the live sound. As well as adding effects, he sometimes loops the notes so the musicians are improvising with themselves. Lang and Faller mostly share the composing on this album, and their individual styles are essential to the band sound.
Lang`s Casa da Tom is a gentle tango with a Piazzolla lilt and haunting chromatic melody, the bass roaming restlessly. Right from the start Eisenhauer`s drumming strikes an original note, with delicate hints of drum `n` bass. (He`s written a guide for drummers to electronic beats: `Welcome to the Jungle`). In Why? Because Lang reveals his classical roots with a beautiful solo intro, a modern take on counterpoint, like Ravel`s Tombeau de Couperin. His solo scampers across the chords, before the bass’ very fast swing, interacting with the dubstep drumming with its Latin undercurrent. There`s a swooshing effect, squelchy bass and a sense of fun. No Goodbye is deeply Romantic, and sounds like a Bill Evans piece, with classic jazz harmony (Lang studied at Berklee). The bass roots the bossa feel, while the drums suggest a freer style, with Eisenhauer’s signature rolls and trills, as delicate as walking on glass.
Lang`s`s 746 could be a melancholy Grieg piece, underpinned by resonant bass. Eisenhauer’s drum rolls are impossibly fast, drawn from electronic sounds. It`s exciting to hear these beats transferred to the kit and played with such subtlety and panache, bringing energy to the languid graceful piano. A samba drum solo segues into The Dark Sea, the darker side of Lang`s writing: sharp-edged riffs in asymmetrical triplets interspersed with lyrical sections. The wild, spiky piano solo has a little distortion in the sound, oozing into the club groove. Hammer, Baby Hammer starts as a four to the floor dance beat (with some 3/4 bars to trip you up). The complex looped layers of piano soloing, sensuous Pastorius-esque bass solo and sudden mood changes are totally engaging. Arearea (by Faller and Eisenhauer) is rockier, the beats placed unexpectedly, familiar bluesy funk, yet disconcerting.
Faller’s Evet has the bowed bass sounding as if it’s in a huge cave, mysteriously minor and Moorish, exploding into Bad Plus-like 5/4 rock, as in Faller’s Sounds in my Garden. This has prog overtones, with some particularly groovy Amen breaks from Eisenhauer. Faller’s Adria has a slightly-out of-tune piano sound. It’s similar to the one used by Ethan Iverson in Iron Man, but here in a gentle waltz, with a beautiful bass solo, full of tenderness, with little bunches of electronic-style beats tossed in.
The two covers show Mario Sutel’s ‘realtime sonic manipulation’ at its most creative. Down, (a melodic Blink 182 hit) has mysterious plunging sounds, like notes being refracted under water, and shivering Aphex Twin-style drums. The Man-Machine is by Kraftwerk (Faller: ‘Our favourite German cultural export’), and this version is more man than machine, with bubbling electronic sounds enhancing the layers of looped improvisation and strong funk groove- and the unmistakable sound of humans interacting. There’s an exceptional drum solo, combining electronica with some expressive Tony Williams-ish cymbal work.
This is a truly original album, bringing together the individuals’ jazz, classical, rock and electronic influences, beautifully-recorded, gentle or intense, and always compelling.