A trio of piano, violin and bass seems like it could be limiting in an improvisational context but the German group Esche does just fine with that lineup. They create a bright style of lively chamber music that teems with emotion and romance.
This is not one of those European groups that relies on a lot of free improvisation. All of their music is composed by the group members and has strong melodies or rhythmic ideas. "Om-Har" starts with a pretty but somber theme carried by Laura Schuler on violin and her brother Luzius on piano. Then Lisa Hoppe takes a stately Charlie Haden-like bass solo and the piece evolves into a swirling tango dominated by Laura's leaping violin. Her skittering and jumping also emerges as a spirited presence on other tracks, bringing humanity to the mechanical piano-bass patterns of "Fischer" and the nervous scrapes and tinkles of "Trotz."
"Odyssee" comes off both heavy and light as it alternates passages of harsh, scraping bow work with dancing fragments of melody from the entire trio. "Orkanum" is a short bit of group agitation and "Der Gamle By" features a brooding string melody interlaced with jangling piano. "Slow Bus To China" is another dark, angular melody with intense bowed violin, chiming piano and fat bass all mashed together, gradually picking up speed until it reaches a state of discordant delirium.
Most of this music has a very serious feel, so "Shatterhand" is a surprising contrast. It's a lively rural hoedown that sounds like some of Aaron Copland's Americana-based music. Laura Schuler saws away at her violin like she's at a barn dance while Luzius dances out a piano jig that turns into true syncopated jazz playing and Hoppe thumps along merrily on bass beside him.
The members of Esche work very well together. The violin and piano of the Schuler siblings convey a lot of deep feelings. Their sounds seem to fit together instinctively while Lisa Hoppe's bass provides a solid anchor for their conversations. This trio's music rarely resembles conventional jazz but it is fun and stimulating work nonetheless.
Track Listing: Der Dichter Spricht; Trotz; Fischer; Orkanum; Om-Har; Odyssee; On a Slow Bus to China; Shatterhand; Den Gamle By.
Personnel: Laura Schuler: violin; Lisa Hoppe: double bass; Luzius Schuler: piano.
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