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Julia Hülsmann Quartet: The Next Door (ECM)

A review of the pianist's second ECM release

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Julia Hülsmann Quartet: The Next Door (ECM)
The cover of The Next Door by Julia Hülsmann Quartet

I have friends who no longer follow the releases of ECM, believing the Munich label’s best years were in the past, when such innovative recordings as John Abercrombie’s Timeless, Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert, Terje Rypdal’s To Be Continued, Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life, and the catalog of Paul Motian achieved sonic bliss and improvisational brilliance. But to my ears, ECM has never stopped recording great jazz musicians. Though its roster may be more insular, it remains fiercely independent and resourceful.

Pianist Julia Hülsmann’s second ECM release makes the case, brightly. The compositions that she shares with the rest of her road-hardened quartet—Uli Kempendorff (tenor saxophone), Marc Muellbauer (double bass), and Heinrich Köbberling (drums)—are given buoyancy and expression in small shifts of varying pressure that create demonstrable actions and emotions. The quartet creates a dense, liquid sound that bathes the listener in a sense of comfort, and intense adventure.

The Next Door’s 12 entries include quietly raging “Wasp at the Window” (driven by Kempendorff’s rich squalls and Köbberling’s shifting cymbal patter), the curious elevations of “Jetzt Noch Nicht,” the playfully cubist yet swinging “Lightcap,” and “Sometimes It Snows in April,” fueled by Hülsmann’s stately piano, guiding a bittersweet melody performed by Kempendorff.

While some assert that ECM’s current releases can sound glacial and abstract, The Next Door is anything but. It’s a rich, swinging, at times modal journey, with all the intricacy, texture, and warmth of a symphony orchestra gathered round a campfire.

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Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef was once a jazz drummer; then he found religion and began writing about jazz rather than performing it. (He continues to air-drum jazz rhythms in front of his hi-fi rig and various NYC bodegas.) His reportage has appeared in Time Out, Modern Drummer, DownBeat, Stereophile, and Electronic Musician. Ken is the administrator of Facebook’s popular Jazz Vinyl Lovers group, and he reviews vintage jazz recordings on YouTube as Ken Micallef Jazz Vinyl Lover.