Alchemy

by Robert Menzel

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about

Berlin-based saxophonist leads a quartet of exceptional German musicians and improvisers for this debut album of original music and super fresh covers of some of the world's worst pop music which Menzel elevates to a whole other level.

A review of Menzel's performance of this music in London Jazz:

"This gig featured Berlin-based tenor-player Robert Menzel and pianist Clemens Poetzsch from Leipzig, augmented for the first time by the UK’s Calum Gourlay (bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums). They played unamplified in this minimalist space, chosen by Marquardt for its wooden floors and ceiling- a perfect acoustic. And there were soft, sprawling seats to enjoy it all from.

Menzel and Poetzsch have known each other since they were kids, and studied jazz together in Dresden. Their extraordinary rapport was evident from the opening Just in Tune (by Menzel). The rich tenor tone unfolded the Kenny Wheeler-like tune, and Poetzsch’ solo was full of glittering clusters of notes tumbled together. There were McCoy Tyner-ish robust chords and restless bass and drums. Menzel’s Kühl und Distanziert (Menzel translated it as ‘Very Distant and Cold’) had a triphoppy feel, as bass spelled out the harmony and Poetzsch played percussive single notes (he admires electronic musician Flying Lotus). Sax gusts blew over a spacey groove, the grace notes evoking Gabarek- but on tenor. Poetzsch’ composition Stange Ways drifted through dreamy b5 chords- Hamblett’s delicate brushes barely touched the cymbals, coaxing out the lightest of sounds.

There were folk and jazz covers. Poetzsch had arranged a traditional tune from a ‘German minority people’ Mej ty dobru noc (Night Song) had a gospel treatment with decisive bass strokes. Gourlay’s solo had a luxuriant Charlie Haden-like sound. The tenor tone was heart-melting, with its slow-burn vibrato. Beatrice by Sam Rivers (appropriately, a leading light in 70s New York ‘jazz loft’ gigs) had the most traditional sense of swing. Menzel sounded very like Joe Lovano, whom he admires.

Three unexpected covers revealed Menzel and Poetzsch’ playful and endearing sense of humour- and their musicality. The theme song to a German soap- Good Times, Bad Times- had been given a makeover. Menzel: ‘Now it’s very aggressive- it’s meant to be soothing…it has a nervous pulse, nervous bassline.’ The nervy groove was worthy of Steve Coleman as the gap between sweet piano and dark bass lines grew wider and wider- though neither sounded tense on its own. With delicious irony, the 90s Aqua hit Barbie Girl was renamed Barbie’s 55th Birthday. Bubblegum pop met dark modal jazz brilliantly- especially in the 11/8 bars! Menzel’s mahogany tone was punctuated with affecting high split notes. Nick Kamen’s pop hit I Promised Myself wrapped up their set in a funky minor mode far from the original. The audience loved it, as Hamblett and Poetzsch had a rhythmic conversation, the drums picking up the piano ripples in shivery cymbal sounds."

credits

released February 19, 2016

Robert Menzel - sax
Clemens Pötzsch - piano
Philipp Scholz - drums
Robert Lucaciu - bass

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