HANS KOLLER with BILL FRISELL – Cry, Want

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Although “it’s been clear for some time that Hans Koller is one of the finest jazz composers of our time” (quote from Mark Racz’s liners), not only this reviewer had never heard his albums before – he never heard about him, period (not something to be proud of, mind you). Someone must have thought of increasing the commercial appeal of this release by sticking “with Bill Frisell” after the leader’s name, in spite of the fact that the renowned and gradually mellowing trendsetter is just a participant among the many in this excellent collection of scores for undersized jazz orchestra. There is also Evan Parker in two of the tracks, so why highlighting Frisell’s attendance on the cover?

Apart from this, the album contains eight neatly arranged pieces for an ensemble comprising three instrumental couples (reeds, trumpets and trombones), French horn, guitar, double bass and drums besides Koller’s electric piano (and the pair of solos by Parker in “Hermetique” and the title track). Let’s immediately erase the doubts: Frisell does not influence the music decisively, therefore fans of his late career’s syrupy work will be surprised in discovering the restrained modesty of the guitarist’s educated lines here. He’s simply a member of a gathering of quietly incisive instrumentalists who give their best in all circumstances, either in the rendition of standards or by applying a judicious sensibility to the chief’s own tunes.

Refined functionality and absolute intelligibility enlighten the totality of this pleasurable CD, whose content may partially delude those who trust the comments by “crime writer and broadcaster” John Harvey, obviously citing Gil Evans, Charles Mingus… and Carla Bley (!) of whom Koller lacks both the implicit irony and the sturdiness of the arrangements. If an important personality came to mind, that was Kenny Wheeler (especially in “Reunion”). Still, provisional associations and “famous character” tricks make no justice to Koller’s style, which is endowed with a definite personality and an instantly discernible dignity.

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