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The Great Harry Hillman - Tilt Rating: 4 out of 5 A highly talented young band who have established a singular group sound and who look set for bigger things.

The Great Harry Hillman

“Tilt”

(Cuneiform Records RUNE 433)

This album was forwarded to me by London based publicist Debra Richards, a great champion of European jazz in general and Swiss Jazz in particular thanks to her involvement with the Match & Fuse movement and with the Swiss Vibes website http://www.swissvibes.org

The Great Harry Hillman is not an individual, but instead a young quartet from Lucerne, Switzerland comprised of Nils Fischer (reeds), David Koch (guitars & FX), Samuel Huwyler (bass) and Dominik Mahnig (drums). They are named after the American athlete Harry Hillman, a hurdler who won three gold medals at the 1904 summer Olympics held in St. Louis. As this was the first Olympics to be held outside Europe it is perhaps appropriate that TGHH’s latest album should be released on the American label Cuneiform, an adventurous imprint that features jazz flavoured music from all over the globe.

TGHH was formed in 2009 and has released two previous albums, the self released “Livingston” which appeared in 2013 and 2015’s “Veer Off Course” which was issued by the German label Klaeng Records. In 2015 the band also won the ZKB Jazz Prize.

On “Tilt” TGHH reveal themselves to be a highly accomplished ensemble with a very distinctive group sound that embraces elements of jazz, rock, minimalism, electronica and improv. The labels ‘post jazz’ and ‘post rock’ could both be applied to a music that acknowledges the influence of experimental rock bands such as Radian, Tortoise and Sonic Youth and contemporary jazz artists such as American guitarist Mary Halvorson and Swiss pianist Nik Bartsch.

The members of TGHH were all born in the late 1980s and all are busy musicians who are involved in other projects right across the musical spectrum (jazz, rock, folk etc.) as both leaders and sidemen and they bring their individual and collective influences and experiences to the music of The Great Harry Hillman.

TGHH think of themselves as a collective with no single member dominating the creative process. All four bring tunes to “Tilt” and describe their methods of working thus;
“We have music from all four band members on the album. Everyone brings tunes, fragments etc. and we finalise every song together. Everything is a collective decision in the end. Although we all have different backgrounds and work in different genres, it is very important that we are always open to any kind of influences from each of us. We wanted every song to have its own strong mood.  It was not our idea to feature extended solos, but to feature a strong sound as a band”.

In many ways TGHH’s music defies categorisation, their compositions aren’t structured like conventional jazz pieces, but neither do they follow the song like form of rock, although elements of both are discernible in the group sound. Instead each piece seems to develop with an internal logic, borrowing from both genres but never really being a part of either. Their use of electronics, courtesy of guitarist Koch’s range of effects, sometimes steers the music in a more ambient direction but there’s still a live feel about the music that is rooted in jazz. I’d hazard a guess that the electronics are recorded in real time rather than being a post production device. Collectively it all adds up to a highly distinctive group sound that has been praised by the innovative American drummer and composer Jim Black.

The album begins with “Snoezelen”, written by German born multi-reed player Nils Fischer. The piece commences with ambient style guitar generated electronica combined with atmospheric percussion - cymbal scrapes and shimmers etc. Gradually the piece opens out to embrace long, undulating saxophone melody lines, these providing the anchor for Mahnig to circumnavigate his kit in a busy but intrinsically musical fashion. Having reached a kind of climax the music retreats into the kind of shadowy, unsettling ambience that distinguished the intro. It all represents an unconventional, but nevertheless attention grabbing, beginning.

Mahnig’s “Strengen dankt an” is the kind of piece that any other band might have regarded as more typical opening material. Bassist Huwyler establishes a muscular groove which busy drummer Mahnig latches on to, while still maintaining an admirable degree of individual freedom. Koch joins in with some heavy, rock influenced guitar, his soloing powerful but inventive and admirably free of cliché. Like the opener this is a piece that subdivides into separate components, the introduction of Fischer on bass clarinet steers the music in a more atmospheric and reflective direction, his solo evolving into a thoughtful but unresolved dialogue with Koch’s guitar that sees the piece closing on something of a musical question mark.

The guitarist then takes up the compositional reins for “The New Fragrance” which is introduced by Mahnig with the drummer quickly combining with the composer to set up an insistent groove that forms the backdrop for Fischer’s airy saxophone melodies. The use of repeated rhythmic patterns and melodic motifs suggests the influence of minimalist composers such as Reich, Glass and Riley and of contemporary jazz artists such as E.S.T., GoGo Penguin and, particularly, Portico Quartet.

Also written by Koch “354 Degrees” begins softly with bass, guitar and saxophone gently intertwining as the melody, and the insistent underlying riff, gradually develop, with Fischer inserting a smidgeon of bass clarinet into the mix. Again the music inhabits a curious hinterland between jazz and rock without ever being quite either – and it’s certainly not ‘fusion’ in the conventional sense. TGHH or VDGG? - the piece changes course and mood around halfway through when Fischer emits the kind of banshee like sax wail that that David Jackson would have been proud of and although this is followed by some chunky, angular riffing the music still doesn’t quite follow the expected trajectory as it shades off into more ambient territory courtesy of Koch’s guitar effects. Even then there’s a surprisingly gentle coda on a near seven minute composition that represents one of the album’s centre pieces. There’s a chameleon like quality about TGHH’s music which is constantly shifting, evolving and changing hue.

Drummer Mahnig’s “Agnes fliegt” is a surprisingly gentle and atmospheric affair with the composer’s sparse brushwork and subtle percussive details accompanying the delicate, atmospheric sax and guitar melodies. There’s an attractive air of mystery about this composition, a piece imbued with a chilly, almost abstract, beauty.

Koch is the group’s most prolific composer and its his guitar that introduces his own “Remazing Ace”, linking up with bass and brushed drums to create a melody and groove that seem set to evolve into a rock song but never quite get there. Instead the arrival of Fischer’s reeds, first sax and then bass clarinet, steer the music into now familiar atmospheric, ambient territory. Again there are traces of jazz, post rock and minimalism but TGHH explore these now familiar elements in a style that never becomes boring.

Bassist Huwyler makes his compositional bow with the intriguingly titled “How to Dice an Onion”, a quirky, playful, highly rhythmic piece that mixes jazz and improv with electronica. The composer’s supple electric bass groove grounds the piece which includes choppy, treated guitar from Koch, colourful, inventive drums and percussion from Mahnig and the melodic, humanising voice of Fischer’s bass clarinet. Koch’s guitar becomes increasingly metallic as the pace increases and the track ends with the sound of studio banter from a band who clearly relish the music they create but, crucially, don’t take it too seriously.

The album concludes with the atmospheric ambience of Fischer’s “Moustache” with its treated ‘echoplex’ style guitar, wispy reeds and the shimmer and rustle of percussion. It’s a piece that would be ideally suited to a movie soundtrack.

I’d like to thank Debra Richards for forwarding me this highly enjoyable album. The Great Harry Hillman are a highly talented young band who have established a singular group sound and who look set for bigger things, thanks in part to the international distribution provided by Cuneiform. On the evidence of the consistently interesting “Tilt” it’s something that this quirkily original and highly skilled young quartet richly deserves.

Switzerland keeps throwing up genre defying acts to engage the international music audience and TGHH are part of a line that includes Vein, Schnellertollermeier, Plaistow, Rusconi, Andreas Schaerer and others. They have played at London’s Vortex Jazz Club and will be well worth looking out for should they make a return to the UK.

 

Tilt

The Great Harry Hillman

Monday, January 08, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Tilt

A highly talented young band who have established a singular group sound and who look set for bigger things.

The Great Harry Hillman

“Tilt”

(Cuneiform Records RUNE 433)

This album was forwarded to me by London based publicist Debra Richards, a great champion of European jazz in general and Swiss Jazz in particular thanks to her involvement with the Match & Fuse movement and with the Swiss Vibes website http://www.swissvibes.org

The Great Harry Hillman is not an individual, but instead a young quartet from Lucerne, Switzerland comprised of Nils Fischer (reeds), David Koch (guitars & FX), Samuel Huwyler (bass) and Dominik Mahnig (drums). They are named after the American athlete Harry Hillman, a hurdler who won three gold medals at the 1904 summer Olympics held in St. Louis. As this was the first Olympics to be held outside Europe it is perhaps appropriate that TGHH’s latest album should be released on the American label Cuneiform, an adventurous imprint that features jazz flavoured music from all over the globe.

TGHH was formed in 2009 and has released two previous albums, the self released “Livingston” which appeared in 2013 and 2015’s “Veer Off Course” which was issued by the German label Klaeng Records. In 2015 the band also won the ZKB Jazz Prize.

On “Tilt” TGHH reveal themselves to be a highly accomplished ensemble with a very distinctive group sound that embraces elements of jazz, rock, minimalism, electronica and improv. The labels ‘post jazz’ and ‘post rock’ could both be applied to a music that acknowledges the influence of experimental rock bands such as Radian, Tortoise and Sonic Youth and contemporary jazz artists such as American guitarist Mary Halvorson and Swiss pianist Nik Bartsch.

The members of TGHH were all born in the late 1980s and all are busy musicians who are involved in other projects right across the musical spectrum (jazz, rock, folk etc.) as both leaders and sidemen and they bring their individual and collective influences and experiences to the music of The Great Harry Hillman.

TGHH think of themselves as a collective with no single member dominating the creative process. All four bring tunes to “Tilt” and describe their methods of working thus;
“We have music from all four band members on the album. Everyone brings tunes, fragments etc. and we finalise every song together. Everything is a collective decision in the end. Although we all have different backgrounds and work in different genres, it is very important that we are always open to any kind of influences from each of us. We wanted every song to have its own strong mood.  It was not our idea to feature extended solos, but to feature a strong sound as a band”.

In many ways TGHH’s music defies categorisation, their compositions aren’t structured like conventional jazz pieces, but neither do they follow the song like form of rock, although elements of both are discernible in the group sound. Instead each piece seems to develop with an internal logic, borrowing from both genres but never really being a part of either. Their use of electronics, courtesy of guitarist Koch’s range of effects, sometimes steers the music in a more ambient direction but there’s still a live feel about the music that is rooted in jazz. I’d hazard a guess that the electronics are recorded in real time rather than being a post production device. Collectively it all adds up to a highly distinctive group sound that has been praised by the innovative American drummer and composer Jim Black.

The album begins with “Snoezelen”, written by German born multi-reed player Nils Fischer. The piece commences with ambient style guitar generated electronica combined with atmospheric percussion - cymbal scrapes and shimmers etc. Gradually the piece opens out to embrace long, undulating saxophone melody lines, these providing the anchor for Mahnig to circumnavigate his kit in a busy but intrinsically musical fashion. Having reached a kind of climax the music retreats into the kind of shadowy, unsettling ambience that distinguished the intro. It all represents an unconventional, but nevertheless attention grabbing, beginning.

Mahnig’s “Strengen dankt an” is the kind of piece that any other band might have regarded as more typical opening material. Bassist Huwyler establishes a muscular groove which busy drummer Mahnig latches on to, while still maintaining an admirable degree of individual freedom. Koch joins in with some heavy, rock influenced guitar, his soloing powerful but inventive and admirably free of cliché. Like the opener this is a piece that subdivides into separate components, the introduction of Fischer on bass clarinet steers the music in a more atmospheric and reflective direction, his solo evolving into a thoughtful but unresolved dialogue with Koch’s guitar that sees the piece closing on something of a musical question mark.

The guitarist then takes up the compositional reins for “The New Fragrance” which is introduced by Mahnig with the drummer quickly combining with the composer to set up an insistent groove that forms the backdrop for Fischer’s airy saxophone melodies. The use of repeated rhythmic patterns and melodic motifs suggests the influence of minimalist composers such as Reich, Glass and Riley and of contemporary jazz artists such as E.S.T., GoGo Penguin and, particularly, Portico Quartet.

Also written by Koch “354 Degrees” begins softly with bass, guitar and saxophone gently intertwining as the melody, and the insistent underlying riff, gradually develop, with Fischer inserting a smidgeon of bass clarinet into the mix. Again the music inhabits a curious hinterland between jazz and rock without ever being quite either – and it’s certainly not ‘fusion’ in the conventional sense. TGHH or VDGG? - the piece changes course and mood around halfway through when Fischer emits the kind of banshee like sax wail that that David Jackson would have been proud of and although this is followed by some chunky, angular riffing the music still doesn’t quite follow the expected trajectory as it shades off into more ambient territory courtesy of Koch’s guitar effects. Even then there’s a surprisingly gentle coda on a near seven minute composition that represents one of the album’s centre pieces. There’s a chameleon like quality about TGHH’s music which is constantly shifting, evolving and changing hue.

Drummer Mahnig’s “Agnes fliegt” is a surprisingly gentle and atmospheric affair with the composer’s sparse brushwork and subtle percussive details accompanying the delicate, atmospheric sax and guitar melodies. There’s an attractive air of mystery about this composition, a piece imbued with a chilly, almost abstract, beauty.

Koch is the group’s most prolific composer and its his guitar that introduces his own “Remazing Ace”, linking up with bass and brushed drums to create a melody and groove that seem set to evolve into a rock song but never quite get there. Instead the arrival of Fischer’s reeds, first sax and then bass clarinet, steer the music into now familiar atmospheric, ambient territory. Again there are traces of jazz, post rock and minimalism but TGHH explore these now familiar elements in a style that never becomes boring.

Bassist Huwyler makes his compositional bow with the intriguingly titled “How to Dice an Onion”, a quirky, playful, highly rhythmic piece that mixes jazz and improv with electronica. The composer’s supple electric bass groove grounds the piece which includes choppy, treated guitar from Koch, colourful, inventive drums and percussion from Mahnig and the melodic, humanising voice of Fischer’s bass clarinet. Koch’s guitar becomes increasingly metallic as the pace increases and the track ends with the sound of studio banter from a band who clearly relish the music they create but, crucially, don’t take it too seriously.

The album concludes with the atmospheric ambience of Fischer’s “Moustache” with its treated ‘echoplex’ style guitar, wispy reeds and the shimmer and rustle of percussion. It’s a piece that would be ideally suited to a movie soundtrack.

I’d like to thank Debra Richards for forwarding me this highly enjoyable album. The Great Harry Hillman are a highly talented young band who have established a singular group sound and who look set for bigger things, thanks in part to the international distribution provided by Cuneiform. On the evidence of the consistently interesting “Tilt” it’s something that this quirkily original and highly skilled young quartet richly deserves.

Switzerland keeps throwing up genre defying acts to engage the international music audience and TGHH are part of a line that includes Vein, Schnellertollermeier, Plaistow, Rusconi, Andreas Schaerer and others. They have played at London’s Vortex Jazz Club and will be well worth looking out for should they make a return to the UK.

 


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