Hammer Klavier Trio Miles' Cafe New York, NY June 10, 2011
While the exchange rate between Euros and dollars fluctuates, the exchange rate between American jazz acts and European jazz acts has always favored the Stars and Stripes. Although it might be a bit of a generalization, it wouldn't be unfair to say that European audiences, by and large, tend to welcome new jazz from America with open arms, while American jazz audiences are tougher to crack with acts from abroad. The talented and lucky few from Europe that score recording opportunities with instant-clout labels like ECM records often have a decent publicity push behind them, helping to establish audiences on American soil at a faster rate, but all the rest might seem to have a better chance of breaking into Fort Knox than breaking into the U.S. jazz market. It's a tough nut to crack, but it isn't impossible. The Hammer Klavier Trio might just end up being the proof.
This wily unit from Hamburg, Germany has been developing its own unique sound since forming in 2002, but remained largely unknown to New York audiences until a mid-June, 2011 mini-tour of the Big Apple. In a whirlwind week, which took the group from those-in-the-know venues like Smalls to restaurants-with-jazz like Garage, The Hammer Klavier Trio raised its profile tenfold with discerning New York audiences. The highlight of the week, without a doubt, was the group's appearance at City Winery, and its sold-out benefit concert for Japan was a close second, but the trio also managed to squeeze in a few other shows along the way.
When the trio came to Miles' Cafe, the audience was scant, but the music was in strong supply. A hard-to-pin-down blend of acoustic jazz and electric jazz has won the group favorable comparisons to Esbjorn Svensson
, but any similarities are merely leaping off points. The near-ninety minute set that The Hammer Klavier Trio turned in on this specific evening covered everything from extraterrestrial jam band funk with a European slant to kaleidoscopic chromatic blues and stellar swing interplay.
"Crazy Eights," which proved to be a heady mixture of propulsive swing and exotic aggression, got things cooking, but "Take Fifteen," which featured some stellar, scurrying runs from pianist Boris Netsvetaev, took things up a level. After an electro- excursion which featured Netsvetaev on his Roland SH-101 Keytar and bassist Philipp Steen on his electric bass, both men returned to their acoustic axes and the show reached its high point as the trio dove headfirst into "Intermezzo." While the melody from Sergei Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto spawned this song, the piece went well beyond any one influence. A Mussorgsky-like madness seemed to build in the music and brilliantly angular lines collided with a ballroom tango bite, as all three men played with a mad glint in their eyes. While the mood changed with "Andrew Hill's Magic," the quality of the music remained high. Steen's arco bass lines set the band adrift on a sea of slow-moving sound as the trio paid tribute to the adventurous pianist referenced in the title.
When the band shifted back to electric instruments, the music moved to a jam-oriented atmosphere at first. Netsvetaev's past-futuristic sound, provided by his early '80s era keytar, rode over odd-metered funk from the rhythm section and provided slightly bothersome, oscillating noises at one point, but the trio hit their electric stride with "Rocket In The Pocket." Steen and Netsvetaev delivered snaking unison lines and they threaded an addictive rhythmic tag throughout the song. While drummer Kai Bussenius was a strong presence throughout the evening, with impressive left foot independence on the swing material and strong groove skills in a variety of areas, his solo on this number was the drumming highlight of the show.
While it's far too early to know if the trio's New York visit will yield results in music sales, The Hammer Klavier Trio certainly won itself some new fans and increased visibility as it cracked through the seemingly impenetrable surface of the New York club scene during its week in Manhattan.