Well, this is unusual yet compelling. Luise Isabel Volkmann is a composer and saxophone player from Germany, currently based in Paris. Her latest CD ‘Eudiamonia’ is released on nWog records by trombone player and band leader Nils Wogram
Her ensemble, called ‘Été Large’ comprises 12 musicians and is an intriguing adventure in free playing combined with structured sections which add grit and texture. The tracks on the CD are portraits of people, their lives and characteristics. It made for an interesting and revealing listen, more being revealed with each listen.
The first track ‘ Satz’ starts with eerie, atmospheric vocals over piano, the vocals laid bare before thrummed base joins, a blast from the brass and off we go with an ensemblic and rather beautiful musical interpretation of sounds, odd little soloes (trombone), drums and a discordant sound from the ensemble which is delicious when it moves into nifty time changes and different rhythmic emphasis before the vocals overrun across the top. There is a lovely interplay between brass and percussion and the track contains perfect disharmony and the vocals work as additional instruments, with some Hargen-esque screeches and trills there too. Backed by the huge noise which the musicians create later, it is a track which enters the senses and stimulates them in all the right ways. A great opener. Eleven minutes plus flashes by seemingly in an instant. It is experimental and demonstrates the musical ability and cohesion of this ensemble. The second track ‘ Satz fur Anna’ is gentle, weaving flute and bass lines to great effect from the opening. It has something of the feel of a slow waltz, building and once again, the vocals are used for atmospheric enhancement. A lovely surprise around halfway when the complex flute solo plays over a dolorous bass and piano, creating intriguing and beautiful lines and links across the registers.
‘Zwei Ansatze’ is announced with a drum solo over which the funereal entry of the brass section dictates the solemn feel before the number transforms into a free playing delight. The bonkers vocals/flute/drums section is a complete delight and the flute emerges strongest, trilling, double tounguing and fluttering sounding like a vocalist having the life squeezed out of them. Then all calms down for a bit, the flute still finding its own place in the clouds but now the ensemble add more, leading to a trumpet and trombone dialogue. A gorgeous trumpet solo emerges from the brightly lit ether. The vocals take over and the track eventually leads us back to still, calm waters.
Piano and ‘cello introduce ‘Benjamin Ze’ev’ and the duet is gentle, with sonorous, deep bass lines accompanied by trombone but the opening is deceptive because soon you are led in a listening adventure which includes changing time signatures vying to be heard, beautiful chords and discords, some strange vocals and then around half way there is a buzzy, fluttering section and then the trombone does its own, slightly random but perfectly gorgeous thing over piano which travels the keyboard and suddenly we are almost classical. A track of many parts and we are gently laid to ground at the end. ‘Vom2.bis 180.Tagnach den 12.01’ is gentle from the start with a beautifully well developed piano line and the vocals are sweet and pure. The piano on this track is superb, ranging in style from jazz to classic so somewhere in between, creating a background which is the perfect backdrop to the vocals and later flute. There is even a marching section. A very sweet track. The ending sounds like the vocals on Sam Smith’s ‘Naughty Boy’ (just a bit).
‘I saw your green eyes blue’ shows off the vocals well and is created around a pretty little rhythm , which is counterpointed, the rhythms twisted and turned until it is gradually eroded and consumed into the ensemble and a heavier working emerges, interrupted by a lovely falsetto vocal, which is clear and note-perfect, as is the flute section following, which adds a lightness to the track! Then almost a madrigal section with repeated vocal lines and harmonies. Lots of styles and references here including the section where it descends into delicious disharmony, ending with a real big band sound.
‘Schneeglockchen’ finishes the album with some style. The vocals sound monastic at first before the bass introduces the next section with steady beats over which the trombone sighs and weaves a tale of solemnity, broken by the flute which flies over the top, the rhythm changes and returns. This track has a very distinctive feel and essence with the warbling flutes over stolid and steadfast bass rhythms and a great sax solo. A great track to end the album.
This album has a sense of individuality to it which is very engaging, the music is different yet at times follows references back through the centuries with the vocal harmonies and texture of the deeper instruments under the piano and flute. From madrigals to chamber music, to big band snippets, all are here. An enjoyable, different and entirely pleasing listen. There is little attempt to align with the idea of being ‘either’ a big band, an ensemble or freestyling. Rather, Luise Volkmann shows with her compositions and arrangements an attitude to music as a creative playground where expression is the most important thing, and labels or style dogmas do not apply. Each track tells its own musical story tailored with dynamic and dramatic construction. The musicians she plays with understand and enhance those characteristics. Though drawn from different musical backgrounds and associated styles, here they come together under the unique and deft leadership that is Luise Volkmann. This young compositionist shows she is capable of composing and arranging number which wield mighty weight and also sections of the most intricate delicacy. It is very human music. The complexity of some of the compositions and textured parts adds to the pieces rather than take away and the narrative of each number remains intact. An interesting and intriguing CD showing an emerging talent which I am sure we shall hear a lot more of.
Personnel: Luise Volkmann – compositions, alto sax, flute | Casey Moir – voice | Laurin Oppermann – voice | Vincent Bababoutilabo – flute | Otis Sandsjö – tenor sax | Gabriel Lemaire – baritone sax | Fritz Moshammer – trumpet | Julian Schließmeyer -trombone | Emmanuel Cremer – cello | Athina Kontou – bass | Joahnnes Bigge – piano | Benoît Joblot drums on track 1 and 7
Text: Sammy Stein
Images: Luise Isabel Volkman – and (c) info: all rights go to original recording artist/owner/photographer(s)