German pianist Julia Hülsmann isn’t quite a minimalist but neither is she flamboyant—not even close. For Sooner and Later, she returns to the trio format of her earliest ECM efforts, and she sounds comfortable in this simple setting. No one here is jockeying; it’s a band of equals.
Hülsmann, joined as she has been on all her ECM releases by bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling, is a lyrical player who favors rolling out a theme tentatively. Sometimes, as on her back-to-back original compositions “J.J.” and “Soon,” she goes for a rhythmic approach, skipping her way through the melody giddily and giving Muellbauer and Köbberling all of the openings they could possibly ask for. On the ballads—Köbberling’s “You & You” and Muellbauer’s “The Poet (for Ali)” are particularly sweet—they take their time, establishing mood and tone prudently.
All three of these musicians are about totality and serving the ensemble’s purpose. On the seemingly obligatory Radiohead cover, “All I Need,” they appropriate the original’s slow build; by its conclusion they’ve reached a tempo others might have taken as their starting point. Hülsmann has a long history in her homeland and released three duet albums for ACT before signing with ECM. Nearing 50, she is still fine-tuning her approach, and Sooner and Later is a bold, if simultaneously incremental, step forward.