Carsten Hein – This
(Unit Records. CDreview by Rob Mallows)
I first came across German bassist Carsten Hein playing on Taken from the Skies by Marcus Klossek. In my review of that album, I described him as the ’secret sauce’ lifting that album above the ordinary.
What would he be like in his own band, when his hand is on the tiller, I wondered? Based on this output, a skilled navigator of contemporary European jazz sensibilities.
He’s supported on this album by drummer Bernd Oezsevim, reeds player Eldar Tsalikov, keyboardist Hendrik Stiller and trumpeter Johaness Böhmer. Upon first listening, I had a vague sense-memory of the group dynamic heard on Jasper Høiby’s Fellow Creatures a few years back, which was a good sign.
The first cut is Unter Pinien (under pine trees), which starts with a single bass note held with heroic sustain, over which Oezsevim’s drums slowly but inexorably draw up to full height. This opener shows a group that’s modern in outlook, laid-back about tempo and studiously avoids cliché.
The clarinet is something of a rarity these days in jazz, but in Tsalikov’s hands it has a sufficient raspiness to make its presence felt. It would normally be a sound I steer clear of, but alongside the caramel trumpet of Böhmer, it’s sharp edges added a contrasting flavour to the sound, the musical equivalent of a lick of salt after a tequila
On a track like Alpha Hydri, the clarinet’s squeaky presence comes into its own, as Tsalikov ruminates over a limpid-stream-like piano while duelling with Böhmer’s trumpet, over which Hein’s languid bass hums, each note being given all the space to breathe it needs. This is the slowest tempo track: it inches along at the pace of spilt water on a tabletop, Tsalikov’s clarinet squawking as the trumpet slowly takes over the tune, amid subtle cymbal work from Oezsevim.
Fifth track Recon represents a change of pace and mood. It’s more urgent; a touch of funk – but not too much – is bled in through Stiller’s electric piano and Hein’s hypnotically impressive groove, which stop suddenly, allowing Böhmer and Oezsevim a minute to just duke it out, shirts off. Both players win.
Ocean’s Song is restorative, each piano note picked out and laid down carefully by Stiller with all the patience and craft of someone building a pyramid from a pack of cards. Underneath, Hein’s picking and muting provides a dry counterpoint, until the track opens out into a lovely trumpet solo, bringing to mind a playful Mathias Eick.
As a bassist, Hein doesn’t over-play on this album and gives space to his band: his first solo doesn’t come until two thirds into the second track. He’s the sort of player, evidently, who would offer the last biscuit on the plate to the other musicians before taking it himself. He’s willing to take risks, with tracks you won’t find on radio: Maximaltoleranz explores some marginal voicing and themes which unsettle, before resolving into a warm piano solo.
When Hein does solo, his electric bass has a pure tone. His playing is unfussy and always serves the needs of the song. On 604,22, his bass in the second half is all about drive and propulsion, steadiness in contrast to the sax and clarinet whirling around in a vortex of passing notes and squeaks. As for the overall mix, it felt a little thin, like it could benefit from a filled out lower register to make the sound more lush, but that’s a very minor quibble.
So, well worth a listen. While there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking here – yet – there is plenty to grab the ear and keep the listener interested to the end.