Ger­man pi­anist Michael Wollny could be one of the highlights of the 2017 fes­ti­val

Ger­man pi­anist Michael Wollny boasts an eclec­tic range of in­flu­ences, writes

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - GUINNES CORK JAZZ FESTIVAL - Alan O’Rior­dan

THE Ger­man pi­anist Michael Wollny has risen to pre-emi­nence in Euro­pean jazz on the back of a rep­u­ta­tion for thrilling live per­for­mances, and with a se­ries of imag­i­na­tive, far­reach­ing al­bums that leave no mu­si­cal stone un­turned. His 2014 al­bum,

Wel­tentraum, with bassist Tim Le­feb­vre join­ing his long­time drum­mer Eric Schaefer, was typ­i­cally eclec­tic: draw­ing on mu­sic by Al­ban Berg, Edgard Varese, the Flam­ing Lips, and more.

The fol­low-up,

Nacht­fahrten, or Night Jour­neys, lived up to that name – a se­ries of spar­ing, con­tem­pla­tive works, with Wollny and Schaefer this time joined by Chris­tian We­ber on bass.

Speak­ing be­fore his up­com­ing Ir­ish tour, Wollny de­scribes that al­bum as de­cid­edly a step to­wards some­thing “lower, more dark and eerie”.

“It added a colour to our live play­ing,” he says. “We have lots of pal­ettes we can use, in­clud­ing that slow sound. But also it’s just about play­ing beau­ti­ful mu­sic! We’ll al­ways play as freely with th­ese things as we can, though, and usu­ally the live shows vary a lot in tempo. We have lot of trust be­tween us and it is an ex­cit­ing time for us.”

Schaefer and Wollny have been work­ing to­gether in one guise or another for 15 years, and Wollny sees some­thing like

Nacht­fahrten as one of the ben­e­fits.

“The psy­cho­log­i­cal as­pect of the whole thing is 100% the same as a long per­sonal re­la­tion­ship,” he says. “You go through dif­fi­cult times and aw­ful times, but if you stick to­gether the pos­si­bil­i­ties grow, the con­nec­tion grows, the un­der­stand­ing grows.

“So when I say trust, I mean you can rely on each other in mu­sic. If you don’t like a new piece at first, you can stick with it be­cause you trust. This is es­pe­cially with Eric’s pieces. I’ll not un­der­stand them at all at first, but maybe two months later I’ll get it. On the other hand, out­side of mu­sic, in a band, you have the busi­ness and the travel, be­ing con­fronted with per­sonal stuff and all this and I think that be­ing to­gether for 15 years makes all th­ese things deeper and makes new things pos­si­ble.”

The trio have re­cently recorded a new al­bum, which Wollny says will fea­ture dur­ing his Ir­ish tour. “We spent this year writ­ing, re­hears­ing, dis­cussing, lis­ten­ing, all that. We have a new set of songs now and we would like to mix all that newer stuff, though we’ve only played it once be­fore, in Leipzig just af­ter the re­cur­ring ses­sion. It worked re­ally well.

“All of us, we are lis­ten­ing to dif­fer­ent ma­te­rial from dif­fer­ent sound worlds. It’s not ex­clu­sively jazz, but con­tem­po­rary clas­si­cal, film scores, pop, elec­tro. Some­times you hear a song or a band and it just clicks, it makes you won­der how that would sound if the trio was play­ing that. This is some­times to at­tempt the im­pos­si­ble – like an early Al­ban Berg song for orches­tra, the ques­tion would be how to ar­range that for a trio, with no vo­cals. There is no recipe for that! What you are try­ing to do is in­clude some­thing in your mu­si­cal cos­mos.”

Eclec­ti­cism has al­ways been the hall­mark for Wollny. His ear for com­bi­na­tions was per­fectly dis­played in 2016’s Tan­dem, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with French ac­cor­dion­ist Vin­cent Peirani. Their ver­sion of Barber’s ‘Ada­gio for Strings’ is a rev­e­la­tory rein­ven­tion, fused with a Gal­lic shim­mer but still strik­ing a melan­choly note. That rest­less­ness and in­ven- tion fea­tured again in Wun­derkam­mer, a se­ries of duets with the harp­si­chordist Tamar Halperin.

Mean­while, go­ing back over 10 years, his trio with another long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor, Eva Kruse, on bass and the ever-present Schaefer be­gan as a play­ful, per­cus­sive group which reached ma­tu­rity in 2012’s Wasted

and Wanted, where one mo­ment the lis­tener is re­minded of yhe Bad Plus, the next hears echoes of Mahler, Be­rio and Schu­bert.

WOLLNY’S ev­i­dent com­fort with clas­si­cal in­flu­ences stems from his early train­ing. “It’s where I come from,” he says, “my nat­u­ral mu­si­cal en­vi­ron­ment. But I don’t think it’s a ques­tion of re­belling against it. Let’s call it a tech­ni­cal in­com­pat­i­bil­ity with the mu­sic. Even when I was young, I just could never do the same fin­ger­ing twice. I was al­ways do­ing some­thing new. I re­mem­ber do­ing my first pub­lic con­certs at seven or eight or nine, and I re­mem­ber for­get­ting the mu­sic and just im­pro­vis­ing. I stud­ied it a lot, but I could never see my­self as a clas­si­cal per­former on stage, there is some im­pro­vi­sa­tional spark in me.”

If he comes from a clas­si­cal back­ground, Wollny is very much aware of the tra­di­tion his work in a jazz trio puts him in. “There is now 110, 120 years of his­tory which con­nects us all,” he says. “Within that, I think we are con­nected with the tra­di­tion of the pi­ano trio, with Her­bie Han­cock, Bill Evans, Bud Pow­ell: all of th­ese points in time mean some­thing. It shapes our un­der­stand­ing and we re­spect that. But, mainly, it is im­pro­vi­sa­tion. Things don’t have to be for­mal or po­lite or per­fectly shaped. It can be rough, it can be wrong, but it can make sense still if it has that set of aes­thet­ics that we call jazz.”

The Michael Wollny Trio’s tour of Ire­land in­cludes Su­gar Club, Dublin, Oct 25; and Triskel, Cork, Sun­day, Oct 29. See michael­

Michael Wollny plays at Triskel for the jazz fes­ti­val in Cork, as part of a tour of Ire­land.

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