An engaging improviser usually exhibits a few essential qualities. One is a personal language or style, the other is a rich and/or interesting vocabulary, and then there's the all-important power to stir and be stirred on a deep level, mind body and soul. Thomas Heberer is one such musical artist who embodies these qualities, which is why whenever he comes to town, I try to check him out, and when he releases a new recording, I listen.
In Miner's Pick, the punning in the title reflects a playfulness of the music across the 10 tracks, in which the German trumpeter pairs up with frequent collaborator double-bassist Pascal Niggenkemper. While the music can get abstract at times — the two exploring the qualities of particular soundsthe silky long tones of a cool musical phrase, or the scrapping rhythmic pizzicatos of an excited passage — there is always the sense of a concentration on and development of distinct musical topics. Whether Heberer is toying with the searing strains of a buzzing mouthpiece and Niggenkemper is delighting in the harmonics afforded by the scraping of the bow, the music always seems to fall back squarely on its feet, with the buttery trumpet tones resounding along with the deep double bass tones.
Heberer makes full use of the low-tech possibilities of his instrument — open horn, mutes, pedal tones, mouthpiece buzzing, wind sounds and circular-breathing all used coherently and musically throughout. This is somewhat previewed in the opening cut ("The Lion Cavern"), which stands as a nutshell of thematic material that will get explored through the 10 pieces. Niggenkemper for his part chimes right along, mainly with just bow and pizzicato playing, but managing percussive effects and timbral qualities with an equally impressive range of nuances. Compositional ideas are drawn from a mature musical language, as well as from techniques, and melodic or mood directions followed whimsically, colored by traditional jazz inflections, but also informed by contemporary classical sounds and by free music. The result is a set of duet playing that can be romantic and lyrical one moment and edgy and abstract the next, even in the course of any single piece.
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