"direct speech"


CD coverA wake-up call for the uninitiated jazz populous

Since 1986 German saxophonist Norbert Stein has issued fifteen albums under his emblematic Pata Music moniker, which is based on Frenchman Alfred Jarry's ideologies pertaining to physics and unreal logic, among other factors. In turn, Stein's compositional prowess includes what he refers to as “composed spheres,” enacted by the soloists' options to rearrange various movements of a given piece. And while Stein is not widely known in the USA, his muse and methodologies often signify a higher level of progressive-jazz, augmented by his well-defined compositional models.

On this 2008 release, Stein's quintet sports a little big band-like sound. With hard-edged horns choruses often engineered with the mindset of jagged or stilted circular patterns, this band's no nonsense mode of attack is irrefutably and progressive in nature amid sojourns into the freer realm. Stein is a superior technician who often drives the band via his jagged and soaring lines, yet flutist Michael Heupel occasionally tempers the blitzing undercurrents with airy phrasings over the top.

The program features African percussion motifs and interweaving horns parts, where the soloists embark on heated exchanges. But Stein's muse also generates a shroud of mystery, partly due to his manner of hinting at a given melody-line. On the title track “Direct Speech,” the quintet dives into a fiery rampage within a fractured groove, accelerated by Christoph Haberer's pounding drum solo. Then on “Alice in der parallelen Welt (Alice in the Parallel World),” the artists execute a punchy swing vamp, awash with spatial metrics and free-bop motifs, firmed-up by Sebastian Gramss' booming bass lines.

It's been said before that Stein's artistry would loom as a wake-up call for the uninitiated jazz populous. More importantly, his musicality offers a mark of distinction, especially when considering the constant influx of post-bop and modern jazz albums flooding the market. Simply stated, it's rare to be treated to musicians who project a noticeable identity while offering gobs of excitement to parallel the overall listening experience. Direct Speech drives that point home in rather illustrious fashion.

Review by Glenn Astarita, AllAboutJazz

The band plays with uncontained imagination

I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve heard from Stein’s Pata Generators, and (the CD Direct Speech) is no exception. From the start, the band plays with uncontained imagination, opening with the disc in a Babel of voices, a swirl of noise from which a quirky, drunken flute/tenor pairing emerges, leading into some Braxtonian unisons. Stein leads the pack with a lusty, Shepp-inflected tenor narrative, with wry muted asides from Muche. But one of the things I like best about this band is that, as complex as the compositions get, as many directions as they take, they all sound organic, as if Freely improvised, rather than wooden or unfocused. It makes perfect sense, somehow, when the crystal meth waltz that opens “For: Get It!” suddenly disappears and leaves Stein channeling his inner Shepp once more (although I cringed at the “Aqualung” quote). Their approach has got the virtues of a good Vandermark Five record, especially in its catholic approach to rhythm (Haberer and Gramms are continually shifting on “Music for Stand-alone Player,” for example, and they sound great throughout). In these pursuits, they don’t indulge overmuch in crafty reharmonizations for the sake of it. Rather, when they do so it’s in order to provide grit and edge, as on the occasionally sour notes they get from minor seconds and so on. But more often they resort to overlapping lines that put a spotlight on the winds players who are so superb here: Muche’s sassy and swinging trombone on “Die Zen” and the dark “Direct Speech”; the leader’s tart lines on “Alice in der Parallelen Welt” or the impressionistic “Daily Life”; and perhaps most memorable of all, Heupel’s tremendous work on “Die Tochter” and “Les Yeux,” and even on the noisy free time closer. Another winner from this lot.

Jason Bivins, Cadence

An ensemble of striking power

German tenor saxophonist and composer Norbert Stein calls his work “pata music,” following Alfred Jarry and his mock-science of pataphysics, variously defined as the science of exceptions, the contradictory or of the illogical. Jarry was a master at skewing time. He rewrote the passion of Christ in the language of a modern sports commentator and began his near-novel Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician, “Dr. Faustroll was sixty-three years old when he was born in Circassia in 1898 (the 20th century was (--2) years old).” It’s this fluid approach to the idea of time that connects Jarry with Norbert Stein, whose work focuses on a sense of flux. Although Stein has employed various materials from world music in his compositions and improvisation, the Pata-Generators quintet heard here may be his most directly related to jazz. Flutist Michael Heupel and trombonist Matthias Muche join Stein on unison heads, while bassist Sebastian Gramss and drummer Christoph Haberer function as a rhythm section, maintaining framework and coherence. So for all the pataphysics, what makes this music immediately accessible is that it’s rooted in the formal patterns of modern jazz while making fresh – genuinely unexpected – uses of those traditional elements.

The opening track has strong hints of inspiration in early Archie Shepp, Stein generating great vocalic bluster against the more orderly voices of his compositions. He wanders all over time, rushing, slowing and delaying the beat, all in a brilliantly slurred filibuster. It’s as if he’s identified a particularly lively moment in jazz discourse, from which his compositions make various forays to touch on a host of forms (”For: Get It!” is a round) and moods, at one point a certain formal turn chiming with Heupel’s refined flute sonority suggests the Chico Hamilton Quintet, 50s vintage. “Alice in the Parallel World” has hints of the Gil Evans/ Miles Davis collaborations in its voicings and rhythms. But there’s a central vision and animation to all of this that makes it an ensemble of striking power (think the Albert Mangelsdorff Quintet of “Now Jazz Ramwong”). How often does one get a chance to hear a musician whose conception of time seems simultaneously shaped by Alfred Jarry and Archie Shepp?

Stuart Broomer, Point of Departure

Organic unity

There'll always be a lot to be said for music that takes in the rambunctious swagger of David Murray's tenor sax playing and Willem Breuker Kollektif's near-irreverence and this release underlines the point nicely.

Stein's tenor sax has something also of Al Cohn's later tone, although it's imbued with such a different swagger that the comparison is of only limited utility, especially when the music's so different from anything Cohn produced as is "Die Zen Gebote (The Zen Commandments)," where the front line of tenor sax, flute and trombone puts out a convoluted line over rhythmic changes that would fox many. Matthias Muche's trombone solo is a model of trenchant self-expression, incidentally, and indicative of the degree to which expressivity is integral to the overall realization of the music.

The music is free of contrivance in its lightness of spirit too. "Music For Stand-Alone Player" is a case in point with its sprightly rhythm changes and the bass-drum's axis ensuring that the absence of harmonic support passes unnoticed. Again Muche's trombone is featured in solo and he makes the most of the opportunity, putting out some solar flares even while he keeps right in with the spirit of the piece.

The following "For: Get It!" is, on the surface, a series of effects and its only with repeated listening that it becomes something else; the structure of the piece as subject to the passing moment as it's possible to be. In solo, Stein brings his big, broad tone to bear in the service of small, fleeting touches and that paradox is broken down by a drum solo in which Haberer explores the full range of his kit, colors flaring again.

The measured hyperactivity of "Alice in der Parallelen Welt (Alice In The Parallel World)" defines how the group operates. On flute Michael Heupel gives the music some air, his fractious phrasing locking in with bass and drums in a rhythmic vortex. The group as a unit is as tight as is necessary, and the paradox that is their simultaneous looseness contributes in no small part to the distinctiveness of the music. The lesson is borne out by the closing "Borderline," where measured but happily unstately progress is the order of the day, allowing a glimpse of the group's organic unity even while the music flirts with the free.

Nic Jones, All-about-Jazz

It's amazing

It's amazing to hear how a creative musician can re-imagine another musician's music and make it their own. Such seems to be the case with German saxophonist Norbert Stein, who clearly owes a big debt to Archie Shepp. This isn't to say that Stein's tunes or approach to improvising are derivative, far from it. He has taken Shepp's declamatory delivery and fuzzy sub-tone sound and hooked them into a series of compositions that are at once speech-like and imaginatively melodic.

The first of 11 tunes, "Chameleon Nature" would have sounded at home on Shepp's On This Night, with its abrasive tenor rasp and vivacious vibrato. "The Daughter of the Pope" has an obliquely bluesy line worthy of George Russell, and flutist Michael Heupel gets ample solo space to indulge in his glowing tone and slippery, silvery lines. Trombonist Matthias Muche lets his plunger mute do the talking on the joyously rambunctious "The Zen Commandments." Every tune has a punchy arrangement, a gutsy orchestration and a committed performance. Direct Speech is new jazz that actually sounds new, not like reverent ancestor worship.

Glen Hall,

Redefining the contemporary tradition

Given the circumstances that dominate jazz scene in the 21st Century, Roesrath-based tenor saxophonist and composer Norbert Stein and his band mates face a challenge typical for musicians of their age and stature: How far out should they go?

While the answer when listening to Direct Speech may be “not very”, this isn’t a criticism as much as recognition. One of the founders of Koeln’s Jazzhaus musicians collective more than 30 years ago, a former member of the Koelner Saxophone Mafia and one of the composers for the 23-piece James Choice Orchestra, Stein’s more than 20-year-old Pata Music imprint – named for pata physics that is concerned with unreal logic and the science of imaginary solutions – has, despite the name, showcased his composing and playing in different ethno-centric, programmatic and straight big-band settings.

Obviously the saxophonist – and by extension his sidemen – have decided that they’d rather be eclectic than avant-garde. This is despite the fact that two other players – flutist Michael Heupel and bassist Sebastian Gramss – are in the Choice Orchestra, while Matthias Muche has been involved with minimalist sessions with pianist Philip Zoubek. Redefining the contemporary tradition is as valid a stance as hard-core experimentation. Yet while Stein’s 11 compositions on Direct Speech are competently played with numerous instances of professionalism and originality, this is no desert island disc. Not every CD has to be, but with the 21st Century’s overload of available improvised material Direct Speech is just another high-class session of contemporary jazz.

Alice in der parallelen Welt (Alice in the Parallel World)” for instance, sounds as if the Lewis Carroll heroine has wondered into a planet influenced by Machito or even Santana. Thick, walking bass lines and stick-pressured back-beat drumming accompany a flute interlude that’s half-gritty in a Herbie Mann-like mode. In contrast, Stein’s tenor solo is very much-post Coltrane emotional with slurring glossolalia, squeaking altissimo and irregular vibrato. Muche’s blustery mainstream runs are more J. J. Johnson than Willie Colon, and he offers variations of that role at various junctures throughout the rest of the disc. Still, there is a point on the soulful “Music for Stand-alone Player”, where Muche appears to be playing Roswell Rudd-like plunger tones to complement Stein’s tough, splintered Archie Shepp-like output.

As a composer/arranger, the tenor man evidently prefers a polyphonic horn line up, with many of the tunes unrolling like “For: Get it!”. On this track the lines modulate upwards from andante to a gallop, as Heupel outputs calliope-like slide-insinuations, while Haberer’s cymbal clacks, paradiddles and drags are less obtrusive then on other pieces which open up for drum solos. Conclusion is another common Stein trope, layering horn parts, which jerk the tune back to andante, then an even faster tempo change before a conclusive end.

To co-opt the CD’s title, in direct speech this is a good disc that shows off the talents of Stein and the others in their best light. It will likely give enjoyment to many. Those searching for definitive, innovative musical statements that will be remembered for years to come however should look elsewhere.

Ken Waxman, Jazzword

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