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Christoph Stiefel: Isorhythms and Circus Clowns

By Published: November 20, 2012
Stiefel has worked as a solo artist, bandleader and sideman since then, with a firm focus on Europe. "Absolutely, yes. It's not easy to get concerts: maybe it's okay for Brad Mehldau
Brad Mehldau
Brad Mehldau
, but for most of us, it's difficult. I write, teach, do many things so I have to think about where I want to focus my energy. Germany is good, because I'm a German speaker. It helps if you speak the language when you are contacting promoters and so on. It's harder to build up an audience in other parts of Europe, or the rest of the world. I have recently built up a following in Holland, but to go to South America or the States, I wouldn't know where to start."

An opportune meeting changed all that, giving Steifel the chance to break into new countries. "It was a real accident. A few years ago a German radio station got three pianists together-Nik Bartsch
Nik Bartsch
Nik Bartsch
, Gwilym Simcock
Gwilym Simcock
Gwilym Simcock
and me-all interested in metric modulations. Then in 2010 I went to Jazzahead! in Bremen, hoping to meet someone from the English scene, knowing that Gwilym was successful and thinking that people might be interested in my music. I began talking to a British guy, we were having a really nice discussion. I mentioned Gwilym and how we seem to have similar ideas musically. He turned to his wife Christine Allen, and told me she was Gwilym's manager.

"We had a short chat and I gave her a copy of Fortuna's Smile (Neuklang Records, 2010). She thought the CD was really brilliant. She told me she could probably get me one or two gigs in the UK-but that nobody would come! Because nobody knew me: British audiences want to come to see what they know." Stiefel and Allen kept in touch and eventually Allen signed the Inner Language Trio to her label, Basho, for the release of Live!, making it the first band on the label to have no British members. "She booked me to play with Gwilym at the Steinway Piano Festival in London. That worked out really well-musically it was thrilling and Gwilym and I became friends. It's been fantastic for me. Now I have a series of concerts, including the London Jazz Festival, to promote the release of Live!." These recent developments have also given Stiefel the chance to play in the USA for the first time since leaving Vollenweider's group. "It's been impossible to arrange to play in the States so far. However, I do now have plans to visit the States for five weeks around the end of 2013."

Live! And Beyond

"I never released a live album before. Most of my favorite pianists, people like Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
and Brad Mehldau, have done it and I feel myself that when I'm on stage and it's a good night I play without any fear. Then something extraordinary can emerge. In the studio this is very hard: I need the public, the audience, to drive me on.

"The radio station, Bayerische Rundfunk, had already arranged to record the concert in the Jazzclub Unterfahrt in Munich so I thought I will organize my own recordings at two other gigs. I didn't definitely plan to make an album, just to see how it would go. We did the recordings and some of the music was really happening but I still had doubts. In the past, my reason for recording an album was to present my new compositions. On Live! this isn't the case: 'New Waltz For Nina' is new but all the rest are old tunes. So I put the recordings away, then listened again later. Then I saw Christine at the 2011 Jazzahead! and asked her to listen to it. I gave her the unmixed recordings and asked her for her thoughts-she loved them and that was that."

Stiefel has yet to finish law school: "I thought, well I can always go back and take the exam." Indeed he might, although he may have quite a bit of revision to do. The way things are going though, it's unlikely that he'll need to make such a major career change. Like he said, 2012 is his year.

Selected Discography

Christoph Stiefel Inner Language Trio, Live! (Basho Records, 2012)

Christoph Stiefel and Lisette Spinnler, Bima Sakti (Traumton Indigo, 2012)

Christoph Stiefel Inner Language Trio, Fortuna's Smile (Neuklang Records, 2010)

Christoph Stiefel Inner Language Trio, Christoph Stiefel Inner Language Trio (Neuklang Records, 2008)

Christoph Stiefel Trio, 7meilenStiefel (Neuklang Records, 2006)

Christoph Stiefel, Isorhythms For Solo Piano (Pangan Records, 2005)

Christoph Stiefel Trio, Dream Of The Camel (Enja Records, 2001)

Christoph Stiefel, Sweet Paradox (Jazzline Records, 1997)

Andreas Vollenweider, Book Of Roses (Sony, 1991)

Andreas Vollenweider, Dancing With The Lion (CBS, 1988)

Andreas Vollenweider, Down To The Moon (CBS, 1986)

Photo Credits
Page 3: R. Camenisch

All Other Photos: Courtesy of Christoph Stiefel

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