Already in his forties and an in-demand player in his native Germany with the NDR and WDR Radio Big Bands, among others, pianist Hubert Nuss is something of an unknown entity elsewhere, certainly to North American audiences. And that's a shame, because based on the strength of Feed the Birds, his first release for the relatively nascent Pirouet label, he's a refreshing voice, comfortably combining the more abstract impressionism of pianists like John Taylor (with whom he studied at the Cologne School of the Arts) with a more American-centric sense of swing. He argues that somewhere between the two aesthetics indeed lies the best of all possible worlds.
Teamed with bassist John Goldsbymost recently heard on Cologne, his collaboration with pianist Bill Dobbins and drummer Peter Erskineand drummer John Riley, both members of the WDR Big Band, Nuss' choice to record a mixed programme of originals and standards facilitates his ability to apply his own multi-hued approach to any context. While one might expector, at least, hope fora certain amount of originality in the self-penned compositions, Nuss' unique approach to the standards may be the most surprising aspect of the disc.
Nuss takes "With a Smile and a Song, from Disney's Cinderella, and opens it up to a liberal interpretation. Starting with a pulsing pedal point from Goldsby and delicate cymbal work from Riley, Nuss eases into the familiar theme, even as he significantly alters its harmonic foundation. Without drawing too strong a comparison between this trio and saxophonist Wayne Shorter's current quartet, it's possible to link them from the perspective of just how radically Shorter's group alters not only his own material, but others' as well, specifically Arthur Penn's "Smilin' Through on the recent Beyond the Sound Barrier. Shorter's group is more consistently unencumberedNuss' reading of the Haggard/Burke standard "What's New is more in the mainstream, though not without a disposition to open it up harmonically, even as it remains rhythmically centred. But Nuss, Goldsby, and Riley push the envelope, more gently and with a clearer respect for the shape of the boundaries.
Gentle, in fact, is a good word to apply to the overall tenor of Feed the Birds. But as delicate as its ambience may be, a certain amount of disquiet comes from Nuss' assimilation of French classical composer Oliver Messiaen's more oblique sense of harmony, in particular evidence on Nuss' "The Light of Kida-Laris. Still, "Good Bye Sir Peter provides Nuss a platform for rich romanticism, with the rubato approach of the rhythm section subtly heightening the understated poignancy of the piece.
Feed the Birds may be essentially rooted in the mainstream, but the vivid imaginations of Nuss, Goldsby, and Riley elevate it into an altogether more exploratory and deeply intuitive effort where reverence and creative extrapolation can comfortably coexist.