There is nothing new under the sun. What modern composers such as Kyle Gann and Bruce Hobson have done with rhythms in recent decades was already theory and practice in the fourteenth century. Here, on 7 meilen Stiefel, Swiss pianist Christoph Stiefel in turn explores the possibilities of isorhythms within the context of a contemporary jazz trio.
The employment of isorhythms, (or the layering of different repetitive rhythms) may sound like an intellectual exercise and one which might run the risk of stifling freedom of expression. There is however no danger of that on 7 meilen Stiefel; the musicianship is at once impressive, expressive, and the dynamics of the trio interplay constantly engaging.
Four of the eleven tracks on the album are constructed around isorhythms and the title track is the most outstanding example of Stiefel's experimentation: a wonderful bass riff repeats a cycle of nine notesin patterns of threeaccompanied all the while by insistent cymbals and a four-note piano motif. On this foundation, Stieflel's right hand dances, climbs, scurries, and exhibits a seemingly inexhaustible well of ideas.
It is clear that Stiefel is no run-of-the-mill pianist. Stylistically his playing is similar to Esbjorn Svensson, only quirkier. On "Still, his touch is lyrical yet blue, combining the beauty and austerity of European classical music. On Antonio Carlos Jobim's "The Girl from Ipanema, his tantalizing solo has a Brad Mehldau-esque logic to it and at three and a half minutes it leaves the listener yearning for more. Duke Ellington's "Caravan sees the trio bounce and swing the tune along while Stiefel explores the keys with breathless enthusiasm.
Patrice Moret's plucky, rockabilly bass and Stiefel's chirpy piano on "Ojimineh sounds like Thelonious Monk meets the Stray Cats. Elsewhere, the music can be glacial and slightly spooky as on "Distant Beauty and "Continuum.
In German, 7 meilen Stiefel means '7 mile boots,' a play on Stiefel's name and a reference to the giants Gulliver encountered on his travels in Jonathan Swift's famous novel. With this fascinating album Christoph Stiefel has made a tremendous impression and marked himself out as one of the most interesting voices on the contemporary jazz scene. Whether or not, the wider music world will recognize that Stiefel is making giant steps of his own, remains to be seen.
Personnel: Christoph Stiefel: piano; Patrice Moret: bass; Marcel Papaux: drums.