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Urs Leimgruber, Jacques Demierre, Barre Phillips, Thomas Lehn: Willisau

John Eyles By

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The LDP trio (shorthand for Swiss saxophonist Urs Leimgruber, Swiss pianist Jacques Demierre and American-born bassist Barre Phillips) first came together when they recorded Wing Vane (Les Disques Victo, 2001) which was followed-up with LDP—Cologne (Psi, 2005), an early use of the trio's abbreviated name. Subsequent LDP releases have come every three or four years, all on the Jazzwerkstatt label, with Willisau being the fourth of them, but the first to feature a guest player alongside the core trio. LDP's instrumentation of saxophone, piano and double bass puts them firmly in the lineage of drummerless trios dating back to the hugely influential Jimmy Giuffre 3 with Giuffre on clarinet joined by pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow.

On Willisau, recorded at the Swiss jazz festival of the title, in September 2017, LDP are joined by German-born Thomas Lehn on analogue synthesiser. This addition makes good sense, as Lehn's synth easily slots in alongside the saxophone, piano and bass without obviously treading on anyone's toes or stealing their space, with the four instruments fitting together as well as the three of the trio. The music consists of two similarly-titled extended improvisations which together run for about fifty-two minutes.

The thirty-one minute, "Monkeybusiness 1" (a promising title...) opens tentatively before Phillips' bass comes to the fore as the pulsating heartbeat of the piece, not in a metronomic way but steady and solid. It is soon overlaid by higher frequency contributions from saxophone, inside piano and synth; no-one dominates or obviously soloes in the accepted way, but all seem to be paying great attention to the texture of their music and how it fits in with the others, thus creating a soundscape in which all four can be heard clearly.

So, one fascinating way to listen to the piece can be to focus on the playing of just one of the players, trying to hear how the others affect their playing and vice versa. At times, though, there is too much going on to remain fixated on just one strand of the tapestry and not be drawn into listening to the whole ensemble, most notably when Demierre—taking his cue from some deep, dark arco bass from Phillips—introduces a low-end rumble that gradually grows and dominates, with the other players responding in kind to create an impressive low frequency wall of sound that shepherds the piece to its end. Music to wallow in!

In contrast, the twenty-one minute "Monkeybusiness 2" is very different structurally and in mood, but just as good. It opens with an enthralling bass and sax duet which shows the benefit of LDP's twenty years as an ensemble. Gradually, the expressive, plaintive music of Phillips and Leimgruber is joined by Demierre and Lehn who slot in easily and naturally without significantly altering the tranquil, contemplative mood created by their fellows.

Despite the length of their association as a trio and the success of their past music, Willisau is plenty good enough to suggest that LDP could be well advised to record this quartet again—maybe a studio album, next time? LDPL anyone? (The YouTube clip below, dating from eighteen months after Willisau, suggests that they may agree...)

Track Listing: Monkeybusiness 1; Monkeybusiness 2.

Personnel: Urs Leimgruber: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Jacques Demierre: piano; Barre Phillips: bass; Thomas Lehn: analogue synthesiser.

Title: Willisau | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Jazzwerkstatt

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