Julia Hülsmann Quartet: Not Far From Here (ECM 2664)

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Julia Hülsmann Quartet
Not Far From Here

Uli Kempendorff tenor saxophone
Julia Hülsmann piano
Marc Muellbauer double bass
Heinrich Köbberling drums
Recorded March 2019, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Mastering: Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Thomas Herr
Release date: November 1, 2019

Fans of pianist Julia Hülsmann’s work will find familiar flavors enhanced by the unique spice of tenor saxophonist Uli Kempendorff being added to her long-running ensemble. He’s most vividly showcased on “Le Mistral,” one of two tunes contributed by bassist Marc Muellbauer. What begins with a quiet stirring develops into a freely interlocking sound—one honed by years of experience and held together by the band’s open-ended circuitry.

The poetry of Kempendorff’s playing is forthcoming, and the same holds true of his writing, even as “Einschub” is harmonized enigmatically. Most of the composing credits, though, go to Hülsmann. From the opening caress of “The Art Of Failing” to the masterful “No Game,” she treats every instrument as a vital ligament of the same appendage, pointing and flexing to the rhythms of emotional desire. With the tenderness of morning light gaining slow but steady purchase on the corner of a bedroom window, she follows a natural order of things.

Drummer Heinrich Köbberling throws a couple of his own coins into the proverbial fountain, including “Colibri 65,” which furthers the bandleader’s apparent mission of summoning placid, distinct airs.

The set is upheld by two versions of “This Is Not America,” a song written by David Bowie in collaboration with Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays. With broken nostalgia, it winds a melodic tangle from which escape is an easy but deeply unattractive option.

(This review originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of DownBeat magazine.)

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