Julia Hülsmann Quartet: Not Far From Here

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For her sixth ECM set, pianist and composer Julia Hülsmann has added an occasionally ardent tenor saxophonist, Uli Kempendorff, to her quintessentially cool, German trio of bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling.

Restrained on the leader’s short opener and subtle on Muellbauer’s labyrinthine Le Mistral, a track distinguished by the composer’s fluent bass line, he comes into his own on the album’s only cover, David Bowie’s and Pat Metheny’s This Is Not America. From a tentative start, he soon explodes into a high-register, split-note intervention before the beautiful theme returns on piano. He is equally forthright on the urgent Streiflicht, again bursting out before the trio resumes normal service, and is eruptive on Muellbauer’s filmic Wrong Song.

In contrast, the leader’s own piano lines are often circuitous in direction and always quietly deliberate in delivery, arriving by stealth at their destination, while Muellbauer’s bass, notably eloquent on the brief If I Had A Heart, is usually more dominant than the discreet and subtle drums of Köbberling.

It is this contrast, this tension, between an essentially cool trio and the sonic liberty afforded the main soloist that makes this set stand out. It’s a fine achievement by an always impressive group of musicians.

Discography
The Art Of Failing; Le Mistral; This Is Not America; Weit Weg; Streiflicht; Not Far From Here; No Game; Einschub; If I Had A Heart; Colibri 65; You Don’t Have to Win Me Over; Wrong Song; This Is Not America (var) (59.56)
Hülsmann (p); Uli Kempendorff (ts); Marc Muellbauer (b); Heinrich Köbberling (d). Pernes-les-Fontaines, France, March 2019.
ECM 080 6088