Monday, July 2, 2012

The Berlin Album by Ekkehard Wölk Trio


"Berlin, Berlin, the city is a sin – you never go out the way you walked in!"

After some good years of productive collaboration between Ekkehard Wölk, Johannes Fink, and Andrea Marcelli, Ekkehard has driven them into a new concept which primarily consists of excitingly fresh interpretations of well-known musical standards related to the city of Berlin. The Ekkehard Wölk's new album is simply called The Berlin Album.

In terms of structure, the work is based on the legendary 1929 silent film Menschen Am Sonntag made collectively by Robert and Curt Siodmak, Billy Wilder, Edgar Ulmer, and Fred Zinnemann which describes the course of a single Sunday in the lives of four young people in Berlin.

"It seems to me that we have created not only a multifaceted musical kaleidoscope of jazz," says Ekkehard, "but we have also managed to forge an individual and playful reverence for our adopted hometown Berlin."

Ekkehard has incorporated some of Berlin’s most prominent composers from the past whose pieces have made a permanent contribution to the musical iconography of the city.

The album opens gracefully with the Morning Choral, originally written by Johann Christoph Pepusch (1667-1752) and rearranged by Ekkehard which features one of his best swinging takes on the record; a Baroque swing!  

A Walk in the Tiergarten, composed by Wölk reminds me of Bill Evans and the intensity of his 1970s trios.

Then the Funeral March arrives, a piece by Mendelssohn (1809-1847), now  reinterpreted as a kind of groovy gospel march. By listening to the album, over and over again, I find Wölk's compositions superior to those written by composers of the past. Mostly because of his absolute freedom to put his favorite city within the context of an elegant, swinging jazz that he always envisions. In this regard, four tracks incorporated between two of Mr Mendelssohn's are real gems which show the vigorous art of Ekkehard Wölk Trio. Hold your chair tight while listening to Casual Meeting and Andrea Marcelli's shifts between metronomic drumming and the unexpected uproars.

Though, most of the recorded pieces are as jazzy as one can expect from a McCoy Tyner or Bill Harris album, there are also pure classical pieces included such as At the Schlachtensee which is interestingly a composition of Wölk's. At this point Marcelli leaves the drum-seat, and economically (and beautifully) plays clarinet.

Ekkehard Wölk

The unstoppable parade of hundreds of images from German cinema in the Berlin Album is something that anyone with the slightest attachment to that cinema can not ignore. Walter Ruthman's Berlin, Symphony of a Great City with trains arriving in Berlin is recreated in S-Bahn. Now, fast, modern trains are replaced with the steam locomotives, but the pace, energy and movements in sound have remained the same.

"When it slowly starts getting dark in the evening and the city begins to unfold in a sea of electric light, one might start to have thoughts of an 'Uncertain Future', which provides a taste of the precarious outlook that so many of the city’s residents share in these volatile times," says Wölk. Marcelli's bowing provides the sound effect to this picture of daily life in Berlin, as if thousands of people are chattering, or a train is slowly crawling on a railroad track. 

In another piece on the album, Gruss, it seems that Mendelssohn has met Ahmad Jamal, via Ekkehard Wölk.

The set ends with a solo piano version of one of the most famous songs ever written about Berlin: Ich Hab’ Noch Einen Koffer In Berlin, written by Ralph Maria Siegel (1911-1972) which became extremely popular after Marlene Dietrich showed an interest in singing it.

Morning Chorale

For many long years jazz was jazz, because it had the ability to tell stories about places and people; it was both self-expressive and universal. Not many recordings after the golden years of jazz have achieved the same goals. But amazingly I found the Berlin Album a sign of the mastery of Ekkehard as a narrator who speaks in the language of music, and also the resurgence of the jazz trio that is equivalent to means of excitement and the zenith of a team work (when the group is small, no one can hide behind another instrument). The Berlin Album is a triumphant meeting between swinging jazz and the classical music; a journey in time and sound in the sin city - Berlin. 

The recording can be purchased as MP3 or CD via Amazon [here], or CD Universe [here].

Ekkehard Wölk has produced five other commercially released albums as a pianist and arranger in Germany and Italy in the last 10 years: A Meeting of two American Giants - Gershwin/Bernstein (JB Records, 2001), Desire for Spring (Splasc(H) Records, 2007), a solo album Reflections on Mozart (2006), the trio album Songs, Chorals and Dances (2005) and the Homage To Nino Rota (2008). Besides that, there are several professional live radio recordings by well-known German broadcasting stations in Berlin and Munich with his trio, mostly original compositions under the title Pictures In Sounds.  They all worth checking out!

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