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Ben Schwendener/Uwe Steinmetz: Apfelschaun (2004)

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Ben Schwendener/Uwe Steinmetz: Apfelschaun How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

The latest pair of releases on Gravity Records, now in its fifteenth year, finds frequent collaborators Ben Schwendener (piano) and Uwe Steinmetz (saxophone) joined together in radically different contexts. Living Geometry II, as intensely focused on George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept as any modern recording, sees Steinmetz guesting for the final three tracks of a heavy two-disc double piano encounter between Schwendener and Marc Rossi. Apfelschaun, on the other hand, is a different beast entirely—easy-going, based on simple melodies and counterpoint, hummably affable all the way. It's thoughtful music, but not the kind you necessarily have to screw on your thinking cap to properly enjoy.

The title of this record means something like "looking at apples," a reference to a certain autumn peace to be found on the grounds of Steinmetz's home in northern Germany. The full-fledged collaboration between the two players in contexts from solo to quintet was collected over the course of five live performances in Boston, Berlin, and Caux, Switzerland during 2001 and 2002. Boston is Schwendener's home base (he teaches at New England Conservatory and Longy School of Music) and the place Steinmetz went for his doctorate (NEC).

The opening quartet piece, "Eternal Harvest," pairs a catchy piano riff with a loosely anthemic saxophone theme, expanding and contracting in time through pensive and exuberant moments, with just a touch of a backbeat. Its warm glow persists in various forms to the very conclusion of the record. Schwendener's "Folk Dance" (briefly interpreted by Steinmetz on solo sopranino saxophone) sounds vaguely classical in its baroque motifs and ornamentation. The ballad that follows moves from melancholy lament through loose swing into a cleansing rush of resolution. "Mood Swings" also connects meditative softness with a spiritual flare.

Having spun this disc many times over the past few days, I have found it veers oddly in and out of my life as a sort of active soundtrack. Rather than demanding attention, Apfelschaun tends to coax it from you. Warmth and understatement are ideal partners in this autumn adventure, fortifying you no matter what sort of chill might lie ahead.

Sound samples are available here .

Track Listing: Eternal Harvest; June 13th; Folk Dance; Freunde, dass der Mandelzweig...; On a Theme by George Cumming; Noddy likes to watch the Noddy Show with Tessie Bear, sometimes; Southern Scale; Underwater; Mood Swings; Two Walls of a Circle; Dona Dona; Desert Games.

Personnel: Ben Schwendener, piano (1-2,4-12); Uwe Steinmetz, saxophone; Sven Klammer, trumpet (2,5,12); Prasanna, guitar (11); Bill Urmson, bass (1,4,11); Oliver Potratz, bass (2,5,7-9,12); Eric Schaefer, drums (1-2,4-5,7-9,12); Miki Matsuki, drums (11).

Record Label: Gravity Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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