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Michael Wollny's [em]: Wasted & Wanted

Bruce Lindsay By

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Michael Wollny's sleeve notes for Wasted & Wanted are emphatic: "MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN RULES. This is Jazz." Back in the day, this German piano trio used to be plain old [em]. Some re-branding has taken place, and now it's Michael Wollny's [em]. According to Wollny, the change is intended to help people who have been confused by the name [em], and to follow the well-worn tradition of naming a piano trio after the pianist. Hmm. Rather a strange approach, given the dogmatic statement about rules.

But what, as someone once wrote, is in a name? The piano trio is still a piano trio (albeit with a spinet and a melodica thrown in), and Michael Wollny's [em] is one of the most imaginative and exciting piano trios currently extant. On Wasted & Wanted, its fifth album, the group translates the on-stage excitement of [em] live (ACT Records, 2010) to this set of studio recordings with apparent ease.

Although Wollny's name is now integral to the band's identity, in terms of performance and composition, this is still a seemingly democratic ensemble. The pianist contributes three tunes, as does percussionist Eric Schaefer, while Eva Kruse gets two writing credits. Instrumentally, the band still functions predominantly as three equal parts, with Kruse's bass and Schaefer's percussion contributing as much to the overall sound as Wollny's keyboards. A new departure for the band is the engagement of a producer, Guy Sternberg, who also shares credit for arrangements with the musicians.

As writers, all three musicians make distinctive contributions. Schaeffer's "Cembalo Manifeszt" combines exhilarating percussion with Wollny's jangling spinet to create one of the album's most immediate and irresistible tunes. Kruse's "Metall" is much jollier than the title suggests, thanks to Wollny's bright, skipping piano, while her second tune, "Nr. 10," is a jagged, powerful composition. Wollny's more reflective, gentler tunes, "Dario" and "Whiteout," close the album on a note of calm.

The non-original selections include Gustav Mahler's "Symphony No. V, Mov 1: Trauermarsch" and a moving, melancholy arrangement of Franz Schubert's "Ihr Bild." The most intriguing cover is Kraftwerk's "Das Modell," which gets a decidedly percussive makeover after a slow and spacious piano intro—a driving, upbeat, almost aggressive reading featuring Wollny at his hardest-hitting.

Wasted & Wanted also includes a limited edition bonus live CD, recorded at the 2011 JazzFest Berlin. "Wasted & Wanted," "Blank" and "Metall" build on the energy of the studio versions without deviating too far in terms of structure or length. The trio's version of Krzysztof Komeda's "The Fearless Vampire Killers" may lack the menace of the original, but its air of mystery and its more spacious arrangement gives this live CD an added dimension.

It may be less iconoclastic than the sleeve notes promise, but Wasted & Wanted is filled with exceptional music—a welcome addition to a fascinating body of work.

Track Listing: Wasted & Wanted; Symphony No. V, Mov. 1: Trauermarsch; Metall; Blank; Kulintang; Cembalo Manifeszt; Wasserklavier; Ihr Bild; Nr. 10; Das Modell; Dario; Whiteout. Bonus CD (Live At JazzFest Berlin 2011): Wasted & Wanted; Blank; Metall; The Fearless Vampire Killers.

Personnel: Michael Wollny: piano, spinet; Eva Kruse: bass, glockenspiel; Eric Schaefer: drums, kulintang, melodica.

Title: Wasted & Wanted | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: ACT Music

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