Hans Lüdemann Trans Europe Express

Polyjazz
BMC CD 240

Even more assured in its newest recorded effort, the appropriately named eight-piece Trans Europe Express (TEE) has become a confident, vigorous and multi-faceted ensemble as it evolves. Part of the reason is the freedom in composition and improvisation encouraged by the leader, German pianist Hans Lüdemann. Case in point: Of Polyjazz’s 10 tracks, four were composed by the pianist; two were composed by French bassist Sébastien Boisseau; one by French violinist Théo Ceccaldi; one by French trombonist Yves Robert; one by German drummer Dejan Terzic and one by German saxophonist Silke Eberhard. The other two members are French saxophonist Alexandra Grimal and Finnish guitarist Kalle Kalima.

Setting off with a funky driving, almost Latin-Rock intro with “Schwarz in Weiss” that’s all prepared piano spurs and chunky guitar twangs, TEE confirms its versatility throughout. For instance compare the light swing that characterizes Eberhard’s “Lu-An Gua Pian”, named for a German play-on-words and Terzic’s “Traum im Traum” or “dream within a dream”. Balancing on guitar and bass string slithers plus percussion ruffs, the first tune’s exposition involves intertwining split tones, tongue slaps and slurs, as the theme darkens with an ending that allows Lüdemann to swiftly pound out high-frequency cadenzas. “Traum im Traum” captures an impressionistic mood with romantic violin sweeps, plucking harpsichord-string like emulations from the pianist and a theme that builds up in intensity via coloratura clarinet vibrations and then lessens the pressure following contrapuntal fiddle sweeps and tick-tock drum beats.

Apogee of the orchestrated octet consideration however is Lüdemann’s “Crum’, an extended suite which slides from one emphasis to the next, and then on to subsequent expansions without allowing complacency to set in. Beginning with an ominous sounding but processional theme from all, it shatters into a terpsichorean keyboard showcase that poses Tin Pan Alley motifs while maintaining canny, contemporary chording. As Terzic and Boisseau lock into a Jazz groove, first the piano then the horns confirm this feeling, at least until it’s superseded by more dance inferences, this time played by double bass stops and keyboard clips. As sylvan clarinet trills are challenged by plunger trombone blasts, the narrative speeds up, so that its final sequence a polyphonic miasma of splattered horn vamps and string decoration.

The octet skates through the remaining tracks. “Enge Bewegung”, the final tune, reprises certain tropes, allowing band members to assert themselves individually. A mid-range yet dramatic intro from Boisseau gives way to blustery blats from Robert, doubled by Kalima’s guitar licks and leading to semi-formal sweeps from Ceccaldi, mockingly challenged by Eberhard’s bass clarinet split-tone dissonance. Still the track never stops moving chromatically, with trombone smears and a string vibrations confirming the ending.

Polyjazz was recorded in 2015. Considering how exceptionally TEE creates on this disc, a follow-up session would seem to be long overdue.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Schwarz in Weiss 2. Angel's Thought 3. Bergen 4. Traum im Traum 5. Crum 6. Des Arbres sous les pieds 7. Disturbed 8. Trois fois rien 9. Lu - An Gua Pian 10. Enge Bewegung

Personnel: Yves Robert (trombone); Silke Eberhard (alto saxophone and bass clarinet); Alexandra Grimal (tenor and soprano saxophones, voice); Hans Lüdemann (piano and virtual piano); Théo Ceccaldi (violin); Kalle Kalima (guitar); Sébastien Boisseau (bass) and Dejan Terzic (drums and percussion)