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Christoph Stiefel Inner Language Trio: Big Ship

Bruce Lindsay By

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Big Ship is the latest album to grace the extensive discography of Swiss pianist Christoph Stiefel and the fourth release from his Inner Language Trio. Stiefel is an underrated pianist. He lacks, so far, the public profile of other European players such as Joachim Kuhn or Michael Wollny but that's no reflection on his talent—as Big Ship clearly shows.

For some time Steifel has been working with the concept of isorhythms—a musical strategy that dates back to mediaeval composers. On albums such as Live! (Basho Records, 2012) Stiefel has signposted this concept by sub-titling his compositions as "Isorhythm #19," "Isorhythm #28" and so on. Tellingly, there's no such numerical classification on Big Ship—isorhythms still influences some of his writing (notably the immediately engaging groove of "Attitudes") but it's no longer as critical a force.

This lineup of the Inner Language Trio features bassist Arne Huber alongside Kevin Chesham, who made two appearances on Live!, on drums. Hopefully this combination will stay together, for Huber and Chesham form a tight and responsive rhythm section.

Stiefel's writing continues to produce tunes full of surprising rhythmical twists and turns—such as "Big Ship" and "The Dance"—but some of Big Ship's finest moments arise in the quieter, less frenetic, compositions. The delicate "First Blossom" is a brief piano solo that's characterised by the calm spaciousness of an Erik Satie composition. "South" is another slow tune, combining a flowing melody and pleasing harmonies. The lovely "Solar Glider" features Stiefel's percussive left-hand patterns, as well as some of Huber and Chesham's most atmospheric playing. "Elegy" is the most striking of these tunes, its flowing beauty the result of a fine ensemble performance.

Out on the oceans, a big ship can seem ungainly and slow to respond. No such problem for this Big Ship. Throughout the 11 tunes the Inner Language Trio demonstrates a masterly command of rhythm and dynamics—shifting direction and pace with the agility of a speedboat one moment, then gliding sedately with the grace of an ocean liner the next.

Track Listing: Thalatta; Attitudes; Elegy; Pyramid; New May; Big Ship; First Blossom; The Dance; South; Angel Falls; Solar Glider.

Personnel: Christoph Stiefel: piano; Arne Huber: bass; Kevin Chesham: drums.

Title: Big Ship | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Basho Records


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