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Album Review: 'HNH' by the Hertenstein/Niggenkemper/Heberer Trio

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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Hertenstein Niggenkemper Heberer HNH album
Courtesy of Cleanfeed Records
The album HNH by drummer and composer Joe Hertenstein’s trio, with Pascal Niggenkemper on bass and Thomas Heberer on trumpet, delves deeply into the jazz and European improvised music traditions.

All New York-based German musicians, the European jazz influence is very clear. The album features a range of compositions from very free pieces that seem to be almost completely improvised, to more traditional jazz tunes with a cohesive melody and accompaniment, a swing feel, and a walking bass line. The ensemble blends the two styles together, often with improvised introductions moving into composed pieces, or free solos after a written melody.

HNH aims for a transparent ensemble approach in which each sound is important, and can be heard distinctly. The trio’s lean instrumentation of trumpet, drums and bass helps make this possible, but the individual players’ personalities are ultimately most important in the group’s sound. Joe Hertenstein’s playing is generally understated. He focuses on the pure palette of sounds available from his drum kit alone. For a drummer-led album, drum solos on HNH are conspicuously – and refreshingly – absent but for a few moments where Hertenstein’s playing comes to the fore, like on his active and colorful solo on “Prelude and Tomorrow’s Problem.”

Hertenstein’s trio mates bring to bear equally expressive musical personalities. Heberer’s trumpet playing unifies traditional and extended trumpet sounds by moving effortlessly from growling, tortured sounds to a warm and round trumpet tone capable of poignant melodic statements. Niggenkemper’s bass playing, similar to Hertenstein’s drumming, generally plays the accompanist’s role with his resonant and clear sound contrasting with Heberer’s more mysterious approach. Niggenkemper’s improvised introduction to “Prelude and Tomorrow’s Problems” is a wide-ranging and rapid succession of timbres for a few beautiful moments as the group comes together again.

A drawback to the album is that it has a uniformity of pulse that isn’t broken until the last piece, “The Tolliver Toll,” the album’s only up-tempo tune. The piece is memorable; perhaps the most compelling on the collection. HNH is certainly focused, but perhaps edges a bit toward being constrained in the way of tempos and moods. To have included repertoire with a more wide-ranging sensibility would have made a good album even better.

The strength of the HNH is its loose texture as well as the free-spiritedness and expressivity each of the musicians brings to the group improvisations. The trio focuses on a raw and sparse sonority that captures the joy of exploration of the unknown. The delicate, impromptu moments on this recording, when the sounds seem ready to collapse at any moment, are clearly musical goals and not merely unfortunate side effects. The trio trusts in its ability to invent freshly at every moment. Overall, HNH is recommended for fans of freely improvised music and for those looking for an adventurous approach to jazz without the heavy handedness of many free jazz groups.

Release Date:

November 29th, 2010 on Cleanfeed Records

Personnel:

  • Joe Hertenstein – Drums
  • Pascal Niggenkemper – Bass
  • Thomas Heberer – Trumpet

Track List:

  1. Screw the Pendulum
  2. Glulan
  3. Paul’s Age
  4. Doin’ the DO
  5. Prelude and Tomorrow’s Problem
  6. Lucretia’s Legacy – Do I Remember Wrong
  7. The Tolliver Toll
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