|Michael Wollny Trio: Ghosts ACT 9956-2|
Michael Wollny and his trio have recently released their latest album, Ghosts, on ACT records. The album reunites the German pianist with the progressive American bassist Tim Lefebvre and the spatial percussionist Eric Shaefer. Together these three made quite an impressive debut on their first outing together in the 2013 title Weltentraum. The album set a high-water mark in the pianist’s career and established Wollny with this trio as a creative force that could conjure up a body of music that could excite and intoxicate the listener. Wollny describes the trio’s unique simpatico, "The three of us are aligned in a special, inexplicable way. It‘s hard to describe but the effect is massive."
Wollny develops inspiration for his musical adventures utilizing off-beat themes. In Weltentraum, the album was based on night songs or dreams. In Ghosts, Wollny describes his concept of how some songs are possessed by spirits, spirits of remembrance. "As an improviser, you often find that it‘s not the compositions themselves you‘re playing, but your own memories of them. And as these memories come back to you in the moment…” On Ghosts, the artist chose a diverse selection of songs, each with a distinct memory for him that personalizes his interpretation of them. There is a logic to the way Wollny cleverly links all these compositions by what he views as their unifying factors. Lost love, forgotten love, loss of simplicity, sentimental recollections, yearning, fragility, sadness, these are the ghosts that linger in the music long after. The album includes Gershwin’s bittersweet “I Loves You Porgy,” a traditional Irish folk song “She Moved Through the Fair,” Shubert’s "Erlkönig," Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’ “Hand of God”, Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Way,” Paul Giovanni’s “Willow’s Song,” from the horror movie Wicker Man, Timber Timbres’ “Beat the Drum Slowly” and “Ghosts” by David Sylvian, along with two of Wollny’s own theme derived compositions “Hauntalogy” and “Monsters Never Breathe.”
The trio offers a dynamism that is quite captivating, with the music making its musical impact in tight, often brief, precisely executed cuts. Wollny‘s piano sets the tone establishing ostinato grooves or fleet arpeggios that carry you with energy and authority. Lefebvre’s bass bellows with facile, vibrant lines that carry the pulse with a sometimes-tempestuous quality; especially impressive is his lead-in to “Hand of God.” Check out the loping lines of Lefebvre’s bass on Wollny’s “Monsters Never Breathe.” Shaefer’s drums can wrap the sound in a cirrus-like whisp of atmosphere or erupt with a cauldron-like boil of intensity.
Wollny has assembled an excellent trio that can take long familiar compositions and re-imagine them in new and surprising ways. Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy” erupts with drive before stating the beautiful melody with passion. There is a poignancy to this song and these three interpret in a contemporary way, creating a drive that never erases the sentiment. Shubert’s "Erlkönig" is modernized by the group into a new century. How would Ellington have imagined his “In a Sentimental Way” being played so barely and in such an expansive, cadenced way? Perhaps the Irish folk song “In a Sentimental Way” retains the most melodicism in the set while still being brought forward in the group’s own inimitable way. Timber Timbre’s “Beat the Drum” features shimmering cymbals by Schaefer and a cadenced piano line by Wollny, as Lefebvre’s bass pulses with a heartbeat consistency.
Take a listen to this album and see if you too are not drawn into the dynamic, entrancing world these three musicians create with Ghosts.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find any videos of this new music, but here is the same group from their 2015 performance at the Jazz Baltica. Enjoy!