Pianist Jasper van’t Hof has fond memories of his time in the studio with saxophonist Harry Sokal, bassist Stefan Lievestro and drummer Fredy Studer and is rightly enthusiastic about working on his latest album “Oeuvre”. When he met his colleagues at Maarwegstudio2 in Cologne a few months ago, he met topcracks of the current European jazz scene. Every note of the present sound proves the qualities of the instrumentalists involved: an absolute dream line-up!
The perfectly coordinated alliance of like-minded musicians on “Oeuvre” presents contemporary jazz at its best. Right in the opening title track, van’t Hof, Sokal, Lievestro and Studer throw themselves at one another and react to each other with blind understanding; the lyrical saxophone melody is contrasted here by cluster-like piano chords in an extremely attractive way. The following “Likewise” inspires with its tricky rhythmics as well as with the parallel motive lines of sax and electric bass. In the post-bop piece “The Apollonians” van’t Hof and Sokal take the liberty of breaking out of the accompanying context with wild, atonal improvisational parts. The following “Dulcinea” is quite different. In this balladesque composition, whose title inevitably brings the female figure of the same name from Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” to mind, all the musicians withdraw and show their sensitive, quiet side.
In “Mr. Anyway” the quartet then picks up the tempo again noticeably, the hellishly swinging number sweeping you along with its forward-pushing unstoppable walking bass. An opportunity to take a deep breath comes along with “Yes But”, with its contemplative mood the track is predestined for late night hours. Finally, two pieces offer bassman Stefan Lievestro a platform on which he can unfold his virtuoso string art. While on “Elusive” he shines over the fretboard with finger-quick sprints, in “Nebula” he opens up the hearts of the listeners with his warm, singing sound on fretless bass.
After about 70 albums, Jasper van’t Hof’s “Oeuvre” is the result of the wealth of experience he has gathered during his career. For four and a half decades now, the man from En-schede has been one of the style-defining jazz musicians on the European stage. In the 1970s, he was one of the first jazz pianists to approach rock music, adding the electric piano and early synthesizer models to his instrumentarium in addition to the grand piano. Since 1984, the keyboardist has also been indulging his love of African music with Pili Pili. In addition to collaborations with colleagues such as Charlie Mariano, Angélique Kidjo, Wolfgang Dauner, Jean-Luc Ponty and Archie Shepp, the Dutchman’s catalogue of works also includes several recordings on solo piano (e.g. “Face To Face”, “Axioma”) and even recordings on a church organ (“Un Incontro Illusorio”).
Harry Sokal likes music with “a lot of earth”, as he once said, and in the course of his eventful career, the Austrian has found this in pop productions with his compatriots Wolfgang Ambros, Rainhard Fendrich and Falco as well as in the Heurigen music of his native Vienna, in jazz formations such as the Art Farmer Quintet and the Vienna Art Orchestra and in the projects Full Circle, Roots Ahead, Voices of Time and Depart, which he conducted himself. The stylistic chameleon likes it colourful: “I try to present as many colours as possible in my music and to unite a wide spectrum of expression and styles in order to reach many people at the same time.” Sokal’s post-coltrane saxophone is characterized by a deep lyrical sensibility, an irresistible groove and the ability to phrase a musical motif to the point.
Finally, Fredy Studer is “without doubt one of the most innovative drummers in Europe” (Drums & Percussion). The spectrum of the native Swiss encompasses everything from marching music to rock and blues to free jazz. He took part in a tribute in honour of Jimi Hendrix, interpreted with the Robyn Schulkowsky Ensemble works of the New E-music of Charles Ives, Steve Reich, John Cage etc. and drummed in pure percussion groups such as Singing Drums and Four in Time alongside Paul Motian, Pierre Favre, Daniel Humair and Nana Vasconcelos. Weltwoche considers the Swiss to be “one of the most vital European drummers, a power-root within Switzerland”, with good reason. Anyone who has experienced Fredy Studer live would agree to every word.