A bold new album that shows how far the quartet’s music has come

ECM 4807370
Julia Hülsmann  (piano); Uli Kempendorff  (tenor saxophone); Marc Muellbauer (double bass); Heinrich Köbberling  (drums)
Recorded March 2022

Following on from their 2019 release, Not Far From Here, the Julia Hülsmann Quartet reconvene to produce a bold new album that shows how far the quartet’s music has come, and even have the audacity to hint at what may well follow.

This boldness stems from time on the road that has witnessed the empathy between the four musicians reach the point where one feels that anything is possible, and the breadth and scope of the compositions and playing here give credence to back up the claim.

The album provides much variety in the repertoire presented from the gentle to rhythmically propulsive, and even the ever so slightly raucous.

Throughout nothing can ruffle the quartets feathers, unless of course they wish it too, and Hülsmann steers a steady course from the piano. She also contributes some fine compositions including the lovely ‘Empty Hands’ that gently introduces the quartet.

From the opening piano statement that is joined by double bass and then the swish of brushes from Köbberling, prior to the equally quiet entry from saxophonist Kempendorff the performance ebbs and flows, and the leader’s solo is a beauty.

This tendency to open with a contemplative opening is again heard on ‘Fluid’ in which piano and saxophone dance around the ever-moving harmonies, and rhythmic pull from bass and drums.

This relationship between Hülsmann and Kempendorff is further explored in a brief but compelling duet on ‘Jetzt Nocht Nicht’, and reprised in a reading for the quartet on ‘Jetzt Nocht Nicht (var.)’.

Bassist, Muellbauer, is a powerful presence within the quartet. His sure sense of time and superbly rich and full tone are a fine focal point to much of the group’s work.

He also contributes three excellent but very different compositions to the band book, an intriguing and ambiguous rubato ballad in ‘Polychrome’, and a beautiful bossa nova ‘Valdemossa’.

Taking it’s influence from Frédéric Chopin, Muellbauer takes as a point of reference the harmonies of Chopin’s ‘Prelude No.4 in E Minor’ and naming his composition after the place in which it was written by Chopin.

In complete contrast is ‘Wasp In The Window’ with a powerful opening bass statement that then becomes a compelling ostinato that Hülsmann appears to find most agreeable in an unpredictable solo that works against the bassline in an outstanding solo.

This is followed by an equally impressive solo from Kempendorff who utilises the full range of his horn against the continuing bass ostinato, and Köbberling stubbornly refusing to be tied down by the bassist.

As if to prove that they have their own sound nailed down, the quartet turn in the only non-original composition on the album, and as is becoming a trademark with the pianist sourcing the material from the world of pop.

This time out, the composition is ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’ by Prince and the quartet take this lovely melody through its paces in a delightful reading that shows the delicacy of touch and sound not just from the pianist, but also in the saxophone playing of Kempendorff whose use of the upper register is spine tingling.

Another superb outing from the pianist who is not just producing music of a consistently high standard, but also raising the bar and seeking ways to continue to take her music forward.

Reviewed by Nick Lea