Michael Wollny Trio cast a spell at Watermill Jazz


Having been described on his label's website as a "consummate piano maestro", whose approach to making music is invariably geared around a "quest for the never-before-heard", there was a lot riding on tonight's show to keep Michael Wollny's lofty reputation intact.

Fortunately for all in this hall, such qualities were confirmed the moment the he sat down to play - at once immersed in the sweet-to-solemn swing of Berg's 'Nacht', his every emotive chord, or impulsive, violent sweep across the keys complimented by his just-as-skilled sidemen, Christian Weber on double bass, and drummer Eric Schaefer.

Here on the second stop of a short European tour that would hear them perform much of their latest record, Weltentraum, this German-born band abandoned the traits of the traditional trio for a set that bridged swing, classical-informed ballads, ambient rock, hip-hop and frenetic, free-for-all fusion.

A sample of the latter was Schaefer's 'Phlegma Phighter', a riotous mess of scribbly themes pressed into difficult time signatures that not only stressed the drummer's tireless creativity behind a stripped-down kit, but his flair for generating creaky and clattery atmospheric noise with some tiny gongs, a bicycle chain and bits of battered percussion.

To the relief of those singed by the sparks on the front row, tensions eventually cooled for a reading of the Flaming Lips' 'Be Free, A Way'. Motored at first by just a faint, off-beat bass drum thump and Weber tied to a single-note drone, before a crack of snare cued up a more robust rock beat to endure Wollny's clunky, gospel-style chords hammering out the melody on top.

A similarly-slick feel from Schaefer spilt over into Wollny's own 'When the Sleeper Wakes', a pretty ballad that allowed the pianist to both stretch out rhythmically, and find weight in long notes, cushioned by a warm, soulful finger-style line from Weber.

Elsewhere, and whereas a strident re-working of Schubert's 'Ihr Bild' stressed both Wollny's classical credentials, and Schaefer's clear love of hip-hop, the band's most legit 'jazz' entry of the evening was a cover of Joachim Kühn's 'More Tuna'. Bright with a bop-fast, muscular melody that soared across the audience, and then back again, as if wired to Schaefer's equally emphatic cymbal playing.

Wollny's band duly delivered a set that proved a masterclass in light and shade. But while all admired the top-tempo thrills, high-note twiddles and long, spotlit solos that would also dominate (and detonate) the likes of Schaefer's 'Gorilla Biscuits' and nod-to-Neu! Kraut-rocker, 'Gravite' - it was the jaw-dropping interplay between these players throughout, and in particular Wollny's use of space to place rich lyricism - most notably over the almost cinematic-sized closer 'Little Person' - that left this the entire hall sedated. In harmony with all the hype.

Mark Youll
– Jon Frost (photo)