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Julia Hülsmann Quartet – ‘The Next Door’ album launch at A-Trane Berlin

Julia Hülsmann Quartet

(A-Trane Berlin. 14 September 2022. The Next Door’ album launch. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

L-R: Julia Hülsmann, Uli Kempendorff, Heinrich Köbberling, Marc Muellbauer. Phone snap.

We are at the launch of an ECM album, and at first we think we know what to expect: this is a secular rite to be taken rather seriously. We are the lucky few who have gathered in Berlin to celebrate a recording made in the tranquillity of La Buissonne studio in the Vaucluse, in which a wonderful natural flow prevails (see reviews, links below). In the first few numbers, the band, and drummer Heinrich Köbberling in particular, catches that mood, fulfils those expectations. He is honouring Paul Motian truly and deeply with all the texture and timbre and delicacy we might expect…

But then something special happens. Out of the blue, the mood has been lifted. Köbberling takes hold of “Wasp at the Window” and starts to drive it forward with absolutely unstoppable intent. A mischievous smile that starts from him has instantly broken out on every face in the band. Julia Hülsmann is giving him conspiratorial looks over the strings of the piano. The whole audience gets it, smiles too. The mood in a room has been lifted, completely changed.

The experience of not just hearing but also seeing a band as confident, as played-in, as magnificently led as this one, and at such quarters is a complete treat. How can markets have got it so wrong? People have been packing stadiums and feeding the greed of Viagogo to see bands as specks in the distance, and ignoring smaller venues. And yet surely these treasurable places are the ideal surroundings in which to listen to music. What can be better than a supportive, musician-friendly and intimate space such as “Berlin’s jazz living-room”, the A-Trane?

The miracles continue as it becomes possible to see from close-up how mind-alteringly and completely Uli Kempendorff has mastered all the overtone series, harmonics, multiphonics that are there to be discovered on a tenor saxophone, and yet can also play the normal registers as lyrically as Mark Turner or Warne Marsh.

There are specific effects in tunes that become understandable when one sees them, such as Marc Muellbauer‘s deft execution of three-part chords on bass (transcribed directly from the Chopin prelude, apparently) in Valdemossa, or indeed the infinitely subtle variations in pedalling that Hülsmann brings to Fluid.

This was the first night of a major tour for Julia Hülsmann Quartet’s playing the material from the new ECM album The Next Door. In a word: GO (tour dates below)

An aside. A musician chauffeur-drove me to the gig in a car-share vehicle. And from now on there is really only one way I want to go to a jazz gig. In another word… MILES.

LINKS: Graham Spry’s review of The Next Door

Sebastian’s review of The Next Door for theartsdesk

Tour dates

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