Christof Thewes Quartet

SurRealBook D+E+F
Gligg Records LC 85348

Part of a coterie of young veteran German trombonists, Christof Thewes has distinguished himself for affiliations ranging from Die Enttäuschung to Ulrich Gumpert’s Workshop Band as well his own ensembles. The SurRealBook projects is obviously exalted among them since this three-CD set is the third in an evolving program of this quartet interpreting his compositions, following 2016’s single SurRealBook A and the two CD SurRealBook B+C from 2017. Thewes has an organized quartet to interpret his material. They are tenor and baritone saxophonist Hartmut Osswald who has been part of bands such as Quatre Marteaux, bassist Ben Lehmann who works with the likes of Florian Müller and Johannes Fink and drummer Martial Frenzel, who is in the Bubu band with Thewes and Osswald.

Although each CD is self-contained enough to stand on its own, a similar musical perception defines all. Besides an opportunity to showcase each member’s instrumental skills, the 38 compositions deal with a variety of moods and affinities. In instrumentation the band unearths memories of the 1960s New York Art Quartet (NYAQ). In fact some of the harmonies and themes have a definitive NYAQ feeling, while the head on “Espiritu rago-rater Geist” resembles NYAQ Roswell Rudd’s “Rosmosis”, and expressed with contrapuntal vamping from the horns. Liveliness is also no problem, with exemplary interpretations such as the sequential “drugs me” and “drunken gods” positioning the saxophonist’s slippery and slurring storytelling alongside laughing vocalized bursts from the trombonist. Meantime a track such as “El Torket” evolves as a terpsichorean romp with Frenzel, here and elsewhere, producing swift Jo Jones-like clatters, as Osswald outputs split tones and Thewes loon-like smears. Quieter than the others, Lehmann only occasionally steps forward with an unforced bass solo as on “Darm Felt Dream”. At the same time his sophisticated double strumming and wood slaps join a stop-time vamp propelled by low-pitched baritone saxophone and yodeling trombone.

Shaded textures from the horns provide part of the session’s distinctiveness, whether expressed in lockstep above a walking bass line and a highly rhythmic ending on “dear old bad young” or harmonized in a relaxed fashion on “dunkle bilder”, even as the trombone’s bubbled low pitch is contrasted with the alto saxophone’s exposition-extending squeaks. At the same time for every concise tune that brightly vamps at marathoner’s speed, there are others which depend on layered interface. “Eine Linie” for instance finds plunger trombone variations backed by double bass thumps linked to reed fills and followed by a hi-hat slaps thickened into a swinging pulse completed by undulating pitch separation from the horn players.

These quick-change moves through pitches and timbres, speed and stasis are expressed at greatest length with defined sequences on “for ornette”, which characteristically though, sounds nothing like Ornette Coleman’s compositions. Working from Thewes’ near-bass-trombone gradient and Osswald’s alto saxophone trills the nearly uninterrupted exposition becomes thicker the further it’s stretched until a stentorian bass string thwack segments the theme revealing brass smears and saxophone tongue slaps. As the horns reintroduce the head, further wood splintering from Lehmann and a drum break from Frenzel holds the bottom for a descending four-part finale.

While the variety and skill of these compositions suggests that Thewes can continue composing SurRealBooks for the other 19 letters of the alphabet, the weight of the material can be counterproductive. As each CD stands on its own as an impressive statement, perhaps limiting performances to single or double CDs would be more productive. A surfeit of performances by only four instruments makes digestion difficult of every concept without respite.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. Damp-mask 2. Dark Mingus 1 3. Dark Mingus 2 4. Darm Felt Dream 5. De Fümler 6. dear old bad young 7. Denn sie wissen nicht was sie tun 8. Did not finish 9. diadludiad 10, doucement 11. drugs me 12. drunken gods 13. dukkha 14. dumnberdummdibumm 15, dunkle bilder CD2: 1. Eine Linie 2. El Torket 3. Elf Prozent 4. El-Ora 5. Emotions in Nix 6. Ende und Anfang 7. Endamorphis Raddazong 8. Entspannt 9. Es ist ein Meir und mehr 10. Es kommet und geht wies kommet und geht 11. Espiritu rago-rater Geist 12. Esscake from New York CD3: 1. Fast Disaster 2. Floating dogs 3. for ornette 4. forpet 5. Freaky Friday 6. freakwavesurfingly 7. freie linie 8. frosch jagt ente 9. frozen man 10. full manly 11. für r.d.

Personnel: Christof Thewes (trombone); Hartmut Osswald (tenor and baritone saxophones); Ben Lehmann (bass) and Martial Frenzel (drums)