Claudia Döffinger: Monochrome

Jerome Wilson By

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There are a lot of very fine composers working with large jazz ensembles today, but what Claudia Döffinger does is in a class by itself. A native of Germany, here she leads the Austrian Graz Composers Orchestra in a program that mixes the colors and gestures of big band jazz with the language and rhythms of progressive rock and hip hop to create a very unique brew.

For example, "Der vierundzwanzigste Sommer" combines angular big band shouts, a melodic fragment of "Giant Steps" and bumpy hip hop drum patterns into a bright prelude to an extended synthesizer solo by Doffinger that moves from wiggly squealing to church-like solemnity. "Monochrome" starts with layers of dense but subdued Gil Evans-like harmonies which gradually expand in size and volume like formal impressionism with Ursula Reicher's wordless singing riding atop the undulating horns. Then the piano hits deliberate marching chords, the brass begin to smear and slide, and Manuel Schuster takes a twisty, liquid rock guitar solo over the tense, hesitant background. The entire piece comes together as some kind of mutant orchestral progressive jazz-rock. "White Note Exorcist," which won Doffinger the 2017 Downbeat Student Award for Original Composition for Large Ensemble, is made of similar stuff, an ambitious mix of huge soaring brass and tense rhythmic undercurrents infused with energy and drama that features a flying soprano sax solo by Patrick Dunst.

The three songs Reicher actually sings are all outstanding in different ways. She has the kind of natural, girlish voice you'd more expect to hear in front of an indie rock band but she sounds great gliding over the creeping pulse and brassy, stabbing movement of "Foxes." On "Elephant" she sings warmly over a soothing ballad melody anchored by relentless drum patterns. The sound of Doffinger's piano carefully rippling through the orchestra as it moves along gives this piece a slow-growing power that resembles the extended epics of Pink Floyd.

Then there is "Choke On It!," an elaborate, segmented break-up song where Reicher first sings along with slow-rising horns, then repeatedly shouts "Choke on it!" against menacing, squelchy prog-funk that musically strays into the realms of Frank Zappa and Rush. "Mumpitz" ends the disc with an unabashed slice of big band funk with crisp horn shouts, excellent in the pocket drumming from Thomas Stabler and battering wah-wah trombone by Karel Eriksson.

Claudia Doffinger's writing uses many ingredients like choppy funk, off-center beats, formal romanticism, indie rock earnestness, and prog rock intricacy. She folds all these into the world of big band jazz and comes up with truly remarkable music that takes chances, knits together the seemingly incongruous and is just fun to listen to. She is a musical force with scary potential.

Track Listing: White Note Exorcist; Monochrome; Foxes; Der Vierundzwanzigste Sommer; Choke On It!; Elephant; Mumpitz.

Personnel: Patrick Dunst: sax, flute; Anna Keller: sax, clarinet; Marcelo Valezi: sax, clarinet; Thomas Fröschl: sax, bass clarinet; Florian Baur: baritone sax; Dominik Pessl, Gerhard Ornig, Jakob Helling, Markus Krofitsch: trumpet, flugelhorn; Karl-Heinz Tappler: horn; Matyas Papp, Karel Eriksson, Christian Godetz: trombone; Johannes Oppel: bass trombone; Georg Laller: tuba; Ursula Reicher: vocals, synth; Manuel Schuster: guitar; Claudia Döffinger: piano; Michael Ringer: bass; Conrado Monlina: percussion; Thomas Stabler: drums.

Title: Monochrome | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: QFTF Records


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