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Franz Koglmann: Don’t Play, Just Be

Franz Koglmann’s Don’t Play, Just Be gives us music for jazz quartet and chamber orchestra that uses compositional techniques taken from the more abstract regions of both modern classical and jazz. The key word there is “abstract”; this is dense, suave music that steers away from unembarrassed or undisguised emotion. Lyrical passages, as in “Nuit Blanche” or “Rivette” of the four-movement “Don’t Play, Just Be,” cast a chill with exposed, restrained melodic lines over bare harmonies. Busier grooves, as in the following “Don’t Play, Just Be,” get the Klangforum Wien orchestra motoring, often in multiple interesting directions at once, but the music is too controlled for the motion to be at all infectious.

The parched feeling extends even to the occasional orchestral outcry. The cacophony that closes the last of four songs on texts by Franz Schuh, “Radio Banal,” bristles with rushes of notes and alien harmonies but feels like a tempest observed from far, far away. And, unsurprisingly, irony lends its emotion-mocking presence: the Schuh texts (untranslated in the CD booklet) are ironic all by themselves, and Koglmann supplies big-band harmonies spoiled by added accidentals or made stale by lack of swing to support the admirably ambiguous interpretations of soprano Ursula Fielder.

Don’t Play, Just Be goes down more like an extremely sophisticated, strong peppermint, clearing away all lingering tastes from previous meals, than an emotional feast. That’s fine; there are some times (and some people) who call for such a palate cleanser, and Don’t Play, Just Be certainly won’t leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

Originally Published