Windisch Quartet: Meander

German quartet reminds of vintage prog-rock, Joe Zawinul and contemporary electronica as it fashions a smooth, user-friendly experience

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After being so taken by the Windisch Trio’s brilliant Pros & Cons last year, I was pleased to pick up this second outing by the Berlin-based pianist’s quartet. Their vibrant debut 2020 Chaos (Hout Records) fused hummable melodies with unconventional rhythms, almost as if Windisch were looking back at the Dave Brubeck quartet through the lens of Anthony Braxton.

With a few subtle but significant directional shifts, Meander is perhaps a smoother and more user-friendly experience. Windisch’s synthesiser is the most obvious point of difference, touching on an eclectic range of interests spanning vintage prog-rock to contemporary electronica. I also sense a slight loosening of the reins, the quartet happy to settle into the occasional groove.

The teetering gait of Langsam Machen (“slow down”) opens the set in familiar style, Kolbeinsson taking a wonderfully controlled solo before Henkelhausen’s meaty bass interlude segues into a rock-steady outro. Certain Uncertainty follows an almost identical trajectory, though this time Windisch’s synth takes a somewhat disorienting excursion into lo-fi. 

The amorphous forms and harmonic ambiguities of the title track bring some of the most intense improvised interplay of the set, and it could almost be a musical rendering of British-based artist Optigram’s mind-bending sleeve-art. The great centrepiece of the set however is surely the enigmatic diptych which follows. Slow Sad Sloth, a languorous but relatively conventional ballad, finds Windisch’s electric piano offering a sublime tonal contrast to Kolbeinsson’s biting alto. The repeating Zawinul-esque refrain of the coda leads straight into Endlich Mal Wieder 15 (“finally 15 again”), and from the softly glowing embers a raging and rhythmically charged tour de force emerges.

Challenging and rewarding in equal measure, Windisch’s crisp and intelligent music does not disappoint.

Discography
Langsam Machen; High; Certain Uncertainty; Meander; Clumsy Sad Sloth; Endlich Mal Wieder 15; Dichte; Blake; Auf Und Ab (42.11)
Julius Windisch (p, kyb); Sölvi Kolbeinsson (as); Felix Henkelhausen (b); Max Santner (d). No date or location.
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