Silke Eberhard Trio

The Being Inn
Intakt CD 280

I Am Three

Mingus Mingus Mingus

Leo Records CD LR 752

Part of the ever-burgeoning stratum of Berlin-based improvisers, alto saxophonist/bass clarinetist Silke Eberhard doesn’t limit herself to any one band or musical configuration. In fact she has partnered with players across the age spectrum from pianist Ulrich Gumpert to trombonist Matthias Müller. Additionally, while her ensembles usually concentrate on original material, she has also recorded interpretations of classic works by Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and others. These trio discs succinctly reflect her bilateral approach. Together since 2006, the trio of the reedist, bassist Jan Roder and drummer Kay Lübke plays 13 of Eberhard’s own compositions on The Being Inn, while I Am Three, completed by trumpeter Nikolaus Neuser and drummer Christian Marien tries its hand on a dozen of bassist Charles Mingus’ pieces on the other CD.

Mingus Mingus Mingus appears to be aiming for a snarky, punk-like reappraisal of the bassist’s work, and can be commended for reviving more obscure Mingus tunes as well, as his greatest hits. At the same time the lack of a chordal instrument and the undue prominence of Marien, who has been associated with Müller and bassist Clayton Thomas, almost makes it seem as if the horns are accompanying him. Lübke, who has recorded with bands led by reedists Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky and Uli Kempendorff, and Roder, whose groups have included Die Enttäuschung, provide more equitable contributions to the other session, making the performances more balanced.

Demonstrating this three-pronged approach, the trio is most effusive on “Willisau Suite”, which at 18 minutes plus is almost twice the length of the next two longest tracks combined. A real suite, it moves from a splintered and shuffling introduction through a variety of duos and trios in tandem and in counterpoint, to end up a pleasing amble, encompassing cymbal shakes and a walking bass line. After a drum roll introduces bugle-call-like stuttering from Eberhard, her timbres accelerate to altissimo as she gesticulates theme variation on theme variation, Roder plucks and string pops with a watchmaker’s attention to detail, and is soon joined with equivalent rhythm precision by Lübke. When the percussionist eventually toughens his attack with New Thing-like rotary stick work the reedist’s irregular vibrations and honking eventually splutter to a moderato finale.

Among the aural light and darkness propelled by the trio during a series of short (staring at 38 seconds) and longer (a maximum of nearly six minutes) improvisations are other instances which let the three demonstrate their instrumental prowess. “8915” and “Schirm” for instance, confirm Eberhard’s debt to Dolphy, with an innate rhythm section swing on the former interrupted by a reed squall; while the bassist’s alternating high and low pulses and the drummer’s clockwork-like beats on the latter pace moody mellowness portrayed by Eberhard’s on the second. Simple and bracing, the bass clarinet solo on “Kanon”, tracked only by the drummer, shows how a profound idea can be expressed without massive elaborations. The contracts between the trios are most obvious with the other group’s treatment of the equivalent “Canon” on Mingus Mingus Mingus. While suitable as a final track, it appears more concerned with Marien’s heavy drumming then Neuser’s ex cathedra elaborations.

Otherwise the performances, recorded six months after the first disc, seem to swerve from POMO archness to livelier interpretations. A couple of tracks appear distantly lo-fi, hopefully a salute to Mingus’ 1950s mono records rather than a studio glitch; while a rather solemn reading of “Jelly Roll” is prefaced by the static and crackle of a stylus hitting a well-worn LP groove in a way that detracts from the overall performance. Plus it’s certain that its composer didn’t figure that the profound sentiments of “Self-Portrait in Three Colors” would be expressed by an explicit back-beat drum solo that has more in common with John Bonham than Dannie Richmond.

When the group pays fealty to the Mingus canon, the results aren’t that encouraging either. Performances such as “Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me” or “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” come across as Mingus-lite, with musical nourishment stripped from them along with extraneous calories. Bludgeoned with percussion pressure, the trio doesn’t realize that the first tune is supposed to be played with satiric humor. The second is also a celebration not a dirge and is also weakened when the trumpeter’s exposition is close to “Taps”.

Nimble elsewhere, the band’s interpretations are more notable when it recasts other tunes, almost ignoring the originals. While Neuser’s exaggerated blowing reference Louis Armstrong rather than Ted Curson on “Fables of Faubus”, he later harmonizes perfectly with Eberhard’s alto saxophone and construct an original bent-note finale. As well, “Moanin’” is probably the liveliest cut with snorting saxophone smears doubling plunger trumpet lines. Avant and piercing simultaneously, the horns traipse together, avoiding the hard-edged drumming for a unique performance.

Eberhard and her bands have now attained an unassailable level of sophistication. On the evidence here though this maturity should convince them and her to put aside the cover material and concentrate on her own compositions.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Being: 1. Ding Dong 2. Willisau Suite 3. Schlappen 4. Mininatür 5. Kanon 6. Towels 7. In Drei 8. Wake-Up Call 9. 8915 10. Schirm 11. Another Pint 12. Versteckter Kitsch 13. Last Order

Personnel: Being: Silke Eberhard (alto saxophone and bass clarinet); Jan Roder (bass) and Kay Lübke (drums)

Track Listing: Mingus: 1. Better Get Hit in Yo’ Soul 2. Fables of Faubus 3. Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me 4. Opus Four 5. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat 6. Moanin’ 7. Self-Portrait in Three Colors 8. Eclipse 9. Jelly Roll 10. In Other Words 11. Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk 12. Canon

Personnel: Mingus: Nikolaus Neuser (trumpet); Silke Eberhard (alto saxophone and clarinet) and Christian Marien (drums)