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Mareike Wiening: Metropolis Paradise (Greenleaf)

A review of the German-born drummer's debut album

Mareike Wiening, Metropolis Paradise
The cover of Metropolis Paradise by Mareike Wiening

When a drummer composes something called “Free Time,” many jazz listeners will leap to the conclusion that it’s unmetered chaos, the sort of sonic hurly-burly in which anything goes. But the sound of Mareike Wiening’s “Free Time,” the opening track to the German-born drummer’s debut, suggests a different meaning, one having more to do with relaxation and leisure activities than unstructured improvisation.

For one thing, the music is intricately constructed, with bass, drums, and piano laying down a pattern of uneven rhythmic cells whose gentle syncopation powers a dreamy, off-center melody delivered on tenor sax and guitar. That broadens once the solos begin, as Wiening’s drums play off Johannes Felscher’s bass and Dan Tepfer’s piano, but the sense of fun remains.

Metropolis Paradise is full of sly rhythmic interplay, cleverly constructed compositions, and the kind of easygoing interaction that makes it sound as if everyone involved is having a great time. It helps that the five musicians fit together so well, even though Tepfer was brought in at the last minute after regular pianist Glenn Zeleski broke his elbow just before the session.

Wiening is the sort of drummer who pays as much attention to melody and harmony as to rhythm, and there’s a lyricism to her playing that gives wings to the others’ phrasing.  Felscher, like Wiening, manages to be rhythmically insistent without being sonically intrusive, his bass a sort of gentle nudge, while Tepfer has precisely the sort of graceful touch to make a piano ostinato tick like clockwork. Guitarist Alex Goodman and tenor saxophonist Rich Perry are a sonic yin and yang, with the chorused warmth of the guitar contrasting perfectly against the astringent tone of the tenor. Together, whether in the laid-back, waltzing pulse of “For a Good Day” or the jovial, upbeat shuffle of “Relations,” the five interact like old friends.

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J.D. Considine

J.D. Considine has been writing about jazz and other forms of music since 1977. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Musician, Spin, Vibe, Blender, Revolver, and Guitar World. He was music critic at the Baltimore Sun for 13 years, and jazz critic at the Globe and Mail for nine. He has lived in Toronto since 2001.