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Album Review: 'Imprint' by the Julia Hülsmann Piano Trio

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Julia Hulsmann Piano Trio Album Imprint
Courtesy of ECM Records
Each repeating, pulsating chord in pianist Julia Hülsmann’s composition “Juni” builds up continual expectation for the next, giving the feeling of a heartbeat. The melody that enters shortly after leaves unexpected gaps, silences in which one waits eagerly for what comes next. On Imprint, Julia Hülsmann’s ECM release featuring Marc Muellbauer on bass and Heinrich Köbberling on drums, leaves much unanswered. The sparse textures and patient playing, at which this trio excels, builds up a sense of anticipation and mystery through a reliance on understatement and simplicity.

German-born and Berlin-based pianist Hülsmann is a perceptive and observant composer. Her pieces are simple, but offer a subtlety and sophistication that is rewarding upon repeated hearings. The compositions on Imprint focus on crystal-clear presentation of melody, and allow improvisations to start from their own beginnings. Each an open framework, the pieces provide clear suggestions to the improviser, but allow for the ensemble to explore.

Muellbauer and Köbberling also contribute two pieces each, and the trio integrates these naturally into the sound of the album. It is hard to tell which composer penned which piece, and this is a testament to the trio's talent as an interpretive group. Like all great piano trios, this group makes each piece its own.

This consistent and distinctive ensemble personality, owing in part to the group's razed hierarchy, blurs the line between composer and performer. Through the light texture of the compositions, where no sound is overplayed, no note wasted, each player's command of his or her instrument is brought to the fore. There is always a fine command of dynamics and a superb sense of group phrasing.

The album's most active piece, "Who's Next", a Thelonious Monk tribute, really doesn't go far beyond the dynamic and stylistic range of the rest of the album. This isn't to say it is a weakness, though. What the album lacks in macro-phrasing it more than makes up for in micro-detail.

Imprint is impeccably recorded, and, like all ECM records, bears the characteristic influence of Manfred Eicher as producer. The dark-hued, hushed aesthetic of the album is consistent throughout. In the album's promotional materials, Hülsmann commends Eicher for his help in "leaving the pieces alone" throughout the process of recording. This trio is committed to a pure and finely focused presentation of the compositions, and it distinguishes itself from other trios - even some similar groups on the ECM label - by its restraint. The song is always near on Imprint, and always inviting.

Release Date:

March 29th, 2011 on ECM records

Personnel:

  • Julia Hülsmann - Piano
  • Marc Muellbauer - Bass
  • Heinrich Köbberling - Drums

Track List:

  1. Rond Point
  2. Grand Canyon
  3. A Light Left On
  4. Juni
  5. Storm in a Teacup
  6. (Go and Open) The Door
  7. Kauf Dir Einen Bunten Luftballon
  8. Ritual
  9. Lulu's Paradise
  10. Ulmenwall
  11. Zahlen Bitte
  12. Who's Next
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