Each new hearing will reveal another part of the story and help piece together a puzzle that for all its complexity speaks clearly and succinctly.

Berthold Records

Phillip Dornbusch – Saxophone / Clarinets; Johanna Summer – Piano; Johannes Mann – Guitar; Roger Kintopf – Bass; Philip Dornbusch – Drums; featuring Juju Rogers (vocals); Lina Knoerr (voice)

For a quintet that have only been together for three years, this second album for Berthold Records is an important musical statement. Tackling the subject of racism, along with all its huge implications is a big ask. Although he has not been affected by racism in a direct way, his compositions take a look at the subject from many different perspectives.

The music is a synthesis of different musical styles and given its own identity though Dornbusch’s insightful compositions. While frequently using tight arrangements and rhythmically solid grooves to express his music, the composer has also left enough flexibility in the tunes to allow his musicians a certain flexibility.

This flexibility manifests itself in the way in which the quintet, in a short period of time, have assimilated Dornbusch’s methodology into their own sonic palette and yet been able to find their own individual and collective place in the music.

Johannes Mann takes an exceptional solo on the tightly controlled yet explosive ‘Demons’, and it is the Dornbusch’s writing for guitar, and the space he leaves for Mann to express himself through his solos that weaves themselves seamlessly through the compositions.

‘Doubts’ reveals an astonishing empathy between the rhythm section that produces a wonderful solo from pianist Johanna Summer and some fine work from bass and drums to bring together disparate parts of the music, pulling Dornbusch’s horn lines and the playing of Mann into a cohesive and satisfying whole.

Bassist Roger Kintopf’s introduction to ‘Anthem’ sets up the composition, and the interplay with the leader’s clarinet and the wordless vocalising of Lina Knoerr that is cleverly placed in the mix alongside the guitar so that at times you are not sure if your ears are playing tricks and whether the voice is there or not. It most definitely is… and to very fine effect indeed.

Throughout much of the album, Phillip Dornbusch chooses to speak most clearly through his compositions and his contributions on tenor saxophone and clarinets are often confined to the ensemble. However, he is a fine soloist and allows himself an excellent solo on ‘Good Faith’ with a strong yet warm sound on the tenor that is most engaging. From the opening clarinet and piano motif, the composition builds patently as the other instruments weave their parts into the fabric of the tune. The tenor solo has an air of expectancy around it as we have heard so little from the saxophonist with his contribution having lyrical bent that is at odd with some of the music that has preceded it. A shout out here also for pianist, Summer, who also has another lovely solo on this tune that marks her out as a player to watch.

If ‘Outro’ brings the album to a quiet albeit fitting close, this is in a stark contrast to the demands that Dornbusch puts on the listener with the opening ‘Constant Vacillation’ that hints at much of what is to follow yet has its own oblique and lyrical story to tell.

This can be a challenging listen but repays in huge dividends attentive listening.  Each new hearing will reveal another part of the story and help piece together a puzzle that for all its complexity speaks clearly and succinctly.

Reviewed by Nick Lea