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Julia Hülsmann Trio: Sooner And Later

Karl Ackermann By

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After expanding to an instrumental quartet—a quintet, with the vocalist Theo Bleckmann included—pianist Julia Hülsmann returns to a trio formation on her fourth ECM release, Sooner And Later. Bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling have been part of that core through the previous three ECM outings, The End of a Summer (2008), Imprint (2011) and A Clear Midnight—Kurt Weill and America (2015) as well through Hülsmann's ACT Music years.

Despite a long, productive career and considerable recognition in Europe, Hülsmann is not well known in the US. A native of Bonn, Germany, she has been playing piano since the age of eleven. After moving to Berlin in the early 1990s, Hülsmann joined a jazz orchestra and later went on to record several albums with her trio and a succession of vocalists. A teacher at the Jazzinstitut Berlin, Muellbauer—a London native—has a broad cross-genre background that includes classical, jazz and tango music. He leads the ensemble Kaleidoscope, originated the Wood & Steel Trio and plays with the Lisbeth Quartet. Köbberling, a German born drummer and educator, has worked with some high profile jazz artists including Aki Takase and Anat Fort and was leader on Pisces (Nabel, 2002) with Marc Johnson, Ben Monder and Matt Renzi.

With more than a decade of collaboration, it shouldn't be surprising that the trio—all composers in their own rite—contribute pieces that are an intrinsic blend of their own strengths and those of the group. The opener, "From Afar" and the subsequent "Thatpujai" are subtle and sophisticated, very much in the vein of more familiar ECM piano trios. A perennial favorite rock source among jazz performers, Radiohead's "All I Need" opens with a beautiful duet from Muellbauer and Hülsmann before Köbberling quietly works his way in and gradually moves the piece up tempo. "You & You," "J.J." and "Later" are more challenging conventions and demonstrate a willingness to push the envelope.

Sooner And Later is an album that grows in appeal with repeated listening. The trio masters interplay and while that dynamic takes precedence over solo time, there are numerous opportunities to appreciate each of the players individually. The quieter moments are warm and enveloping, each with a distinct personality. Where the trio displays their more energetic side, they show a brilliance for creating complex and highly engaging melodies. Sooner And Later is a significant achievement for a trio that had set a high bar, long ago.

Track Listing: From Afar; Thatpujai; You & You; Biz Joluktuk; All I Need; The Poet (For Ali); Offen; J.J.; Soon; Later; Der Mond.

Personnel: Julia Hülsmann: piano; Marc Muellbauer: double bass; Heinrich Köbberling: drums.

Title: Sooner And Later | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: ECM Records

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