Album reviews

Vincent Courtois, Daniel Erdmann and Robin Fincker – ‘Nothing Else’

Vincent Courtois, Daniel Erdmann and Robin Fincker – Nothing Else

(BMC Records BMC CD311. Album review by Frank Graham)

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For anybody unfamiliar with the members of this Franco-German trio, cellist Vincent Courtois’s career now spans four decades, his adventurous spirit gracing dozens of recordings by artists including Louis Sclavis, Rabih Abou-Khalil and Michele Rabbia. Saxophonist Daniel Erdmann rose to prominence in the early noughties with post-modernists Das Kapital, while multi-reeds player Robin Fincker studied and worked in London from 1997 to 2009, where he co-founded the Loop Collective. 

In rather simplistic terms their music can be described as chamber jazz in the tradition of the Jimmy Giuffre 3, though the musicians switch so effortlessly between jazz, folk, classical and improvised music idioms that they inevitably create something altogether more personal. This is their fourth album in a little over a decade, and it’s very different in character to 2020’s acclaimed Love Of Life. While that earlier session leaned heavily into composition and song-forms, Nothing Else is a more loosely structured affair, the musicians finding greater elbow room to stretch out and take risks. 

The sixteen pieces are each named after places the trio have visited on tour, but don’t expect a carousel of impressionistic portraits. Instead the trio explore a range of feelings and emotions which they associate with each place, and often those feelings can be complex if not paradoxical. The elegant counterpoints of opening track ‘Madona’ for example are nothing short of sublime, but equally as striking is the piece’s gradual disintegration into polyphony and abstraction.

Elsewhere the densely layered ‘Groningen’ receives a post-serialist cast, the earthy rhythmic thrusts of ‘Ulm’ bring to mind Julius Hemphill and Abdul Wadud, and ‘Budapest’ and ‘Kuopio’ are brooding Coltrane-esque meditations. ‘Wrocław’ is steeped in Eastern European folk music, while the lower case minimalism of ‘Monoblet’ finds Courtois’ lyrical cello held aloft by softly blown tenor overtones. The thrilling tenor chase on ‘New York’ owes more to European free-improv traditions than anything from the Big Apple, and it would be remiss not to mention ‘London’, a slow-burner which finds the contrasting tenors exchanging friendly blows.

As a single disc designed to be listened to in two halves Nothing Else is certainly a highly concentrated brew. I’d recommend listening to it at least once with a good set of headphones to appreciate its finer nuances, but however you approach it this wonderfully life affirming music should stop you in your tracks.

LINK: Purchase Nothing Else

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