Reis, Demuth and Wiltgen at Schloss Horst, Gelsenkirchen

The Luxembourg trio performed dynamic, elusive and many-sided compositions in a 16th century castle in north-west Germany. Review by Matty Bannond

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Reis, Demuth and Wiltgen at Schloss Horst, Gelsenkirchen. Photo by WG

Outside, the blue sky turned black. Inside, the castle walls absorbed bright colours projected onto the stone surface in changing hues and patterns. It was a fitting backdrop for Reis, Demuth and Wiltgen, a three-piece band whose contemporary style is beamed onto a rock-solid barricade of old-fashioned jazz principles. “We’re not afraid of melody,” the three musicians agreed after the gig on 25 March. “And we never play without emotions.”

That combination of fearlessness and feelings has been growing since Michel Reis (piano), Marc Demuth (bass) and Paul Wiltgen (drums) met at school in Luxembourg. They started playing jazz together as teenagers in 1998. Almost a quarter of a century later, their deep-rooted musical relationship is evident in every twist and turn of their chameleonic compositions.

The first three songs at Schloss Horst encapsulated the group’s slippery style. Rockish rhythms became bare-bones ballads, then sugary pop patterns mutated into hip-hop beats – with a splash of Latin and swing poured into the mix. In the blink of an eye, complex phrases germinated from single-note statements. Loud passages collapsed to near-silence in a heartbeat.

If You Remember Me, the fourth song on the night, showcased the extrasensory connection generated by sharing the stage for 24 years. A stripped-down bass riff from Demuth merged with a sparse piano figure from Reis, heated by the roaring fire of Wiltgen’s drumming. Together, they permitted the music to shift and recast itself like the light hugging the ancient masonry behind them.

The entire gig was shaped by virtuoso versatility. The song 22 May 2015 began with a calypso bounce, Reis punching unfriendly chords with his left hand and offering feathery kindnesses with his right. A bluesy section emerged. Then a gospel feeling. Despite constant metamorphosis, the group’s music delivers a strikingly coherent message. “We always know where the other players are going,” Wiltgen said. “Playing together for so long makes that easy. And it’s exciting too.”

Blue and green light swept the stone structures behind the three friends as they linked arms to receive a standing ovation. The next chapters in their shared story will include recording with the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra and continuing their long-running collaboration with saxophonist Joshua Redman. “The more we play together, the freer we become,” Wiltgen said, smiling at his bandmates. “And our connection just keeps getting stronger and stronger.”