by Ian Mann
November 05, 2015
A very classy piece of work with the two protagonists exhibiting an easy rapport from the outset and the standard of musicianship is consistently excellent throughout.
Bruno Heinen & Kristian Borring
“Postcard To Bill Evans”
(Babel Records BDV14131)
Pianist Bruno Heinen and guitarist Kristian Borring are two of the busiest musicians on the London music scene. The classically trained Heinen has performed with saxophonists Julian Siegel, Martin Speake, Stan Sulzmann, Rachael Cohen and Christian Brewer, trumpeter Byron Wallen and vocalist Emily Saunders. He has also worked extensively with the Palestinian singer Reem Kelani as well as continuing to compose contemporary classical music.
Heinen’s two previous albums for the Babel label have been reviewed on the Jazzmann web pages beginning in 2012 with “Twinkle, Twinkle”, an intriguing set of variations and group improvisations based upon the melody of the children’s nursery rhyme “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. Credited to the Dialogues Trio the album features the talents of bassist Andrea Di Biase and drummer Jon Scott together with guest soloist Julian Siegel.
In 2013 Heinen released “Tierkreis”, an interpretation of the German avant-garde composer Karl-Heinz Stockhausen’s work of the same name by a jazz sextet featuring Di Biase and Scott plus the horn players Fulvio Sigurta (trumpet), Tom Challenger (tenor sax) and James Allsopp (bass clarinet). The album proved to be surprisingly accessible and enjoyable and an excellent jazz recording in its own right.
Heinen’s latest recording is another homage, this time to his primary and most important jazz influence, the great American pianist and composer Bill Evans (1929-80). Evans’ classically inspired sound and technique profoundly influenced the young Heinen who was later taught by the great British pianist John Taylor, himself an Evans disciple, who was so tragically lost to us earlier in 2015. In the early 1990s Taylor had his own Evans project, a group called Seven Steps To Evans that also included the late, great trumpeter Kenny Wheeler.
Heinen’s partner on this latest project is the Danish born guitarist Kristian Borring who first met Heinen when the pair were both studying on the post-grad jazz course at London’s Guildhall School of Music. A bandleader in his own right Borring has released two small group recordings “Nausicaa” (2011) and “Urban Novel” (2014) , both of which have been reviewed on the Jazzmann.
Jon Scott features on both albums, the superior of the pair being the more recent “Urban Novel”.
Borring also leads Acrobat, an organ trio featuring featuring Will Bartlett on keys and Pat Davey at the drums. In addition the guitarist is a prolific sideman who has worked with saxophonist Tommaso Starace and vocalists Monika Lidke and Sara Mitra among many others. Having seen him perform live with Starace I can confirm that he is a supremely accomplished musician who deploys his virtuoso technique tastefully and selflessly. The combination of Borring’s technical mastery and ego-less approach makes him the ideal collaborator for an intimate duo project such as this.
As on the Stockhausen ‘tribute’ Heinen brings much of himself to his interpretations of the Bill Evans compositions on this disc. The programme also includes a couple of jazz standards associated with Evans plus the title track, written by Heinen in honour of his jazz piano hero.
The album commences with the duo’s interpretation of Evans’ “Time Remembered”, first recorded by the composer in 1962. The lyrical solo piano introduction leads to a perfectly synchronised statement of the theme by piano and guitar before the duo embark on an engaging dialogue from which absorbing individual statements emerge. The coolly elegant Borring is the perfect foil for Heinen but also finds plenty to say on his own account, he is very much an equal partner in this collaboration.
Peri’s Scope” is a lively and vivacious conversation between the two musicians that draws more obviously on swing and bebop sources as sparkling dialogue is again combined with eloquent individual solos. There is, of course, a precedent for this recording, the two duo albums that Evans recorded with the guitarist Jim Hall in the 1960s, “Undercurrent” (1962) and “Intermodulation” (1966). Interestingly none of the pieces chosen for interpretation by Heinen and Borring actually appear on these records.
The Evans tune “34 Skidoo”, originally written as a jaunty waltz, is given a more radical makeover as it re-emerges as a tender ballad with flowing melody lines and an underlying melancholy lyricism. It’s supremely delicate and rather lovely.
The title of the Evans piece “Interplay” is highly appropriate as the duo toy playfully with the
theme, their lightness of touch and easy rapport typical of the album as a whole.
The early Evans composition “Five” is appropriately scheduled mid way through the running order. It introduces something of a Thelonious Monk influence to the proceedings as Heinen and Borring again spar joyously with an agreeable hint of bluesiness informing their vivacious exchanges.
A segue of Evans’ “Epilogue” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” references Evans’ classical leanings and features Heinen at his most lyrical as the sequence begins with an extended passage of unaccompanied piano. Borring later proves to be a sympathetic and expressive foil as the duo link effortlessly together once more.
Dating from 1956 “Displacement” is one of Evans’ liveliest tunes and is tackled by the duo with a lithe, easy grace, the exchanges again flowing freely as Heinen and Borring again demonstrate their instinctive rapport.
The title track, written by Heinen, is the only original item on the record although both Heinen and Borring are involved, either jointly or individually, with the arrangements of the other pieces. “Postcard To Bill” fits in superbly with the ethos of the album as a whole and possesses a melody that Evans himself would have been proud of. As ever Heinen’s writing is enhanced by the superior quality of the playing.
From 1962 Evans’ “Show Type Tune” tips its hat to Broadway but in this sprightly Kristian Borring arrangement also embraces bossa nova with the guitarist delivering a particularly agile solo alongside Heinen’s similarly nimble piano improvisations.
The album concludes with an arrangement of the perennial “All The Things You Are”, a long term Evans favourite, recorded at Heinen and Borring’s spiritual home, London’s Vortex Jazz Club in May 2014. The performance demonstrates the duo’s instinctive rapport in a live context and contains eloquent solos from both on a gently swinging version of one of the most popular of all jazz standards.
There’s no doubt that “Postcard To Bill Evans” is a very classy piece of work with the two protagonists exhibiting an easy rapport from the outset and the standard of musicianship is consistently excellent throughout. It’s a highly accomplished and polished duo performance that will bring pleasure to many listeners.
However for all its virtues the question remains, is this album really necessary? Jazz in an art-form that increasingly seems to be obsessed with its own history and for me there are just too many “tribute” albums and live performances out there. “Postcard To Bill Evans” represents Heinen’s third themed album, all of them based around the music of others and although all three have been enjoyable, particularly “Tierkreis”, one is tempted to ask the question “will the real Bruno Heinen please stand up?”. He’s obviously a superb technician who interprets other peoples’ music in a highly imaginative fashion but I’d love to hear some original music from the man himself. His guitar playing colleague has already produced two highly accomplished albums of self penned material and it would be intriguing to hear something truly original from Heinen himself.
Despite these reservations there is still much to enjoy about “Postcard To Bill Evans”. Heinen and Borring will be performing music from the album at 6.00 pm on November 14th 2015 at Downstairs At The Vortex as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.co.uk
Also 22nd January 2016 - @ Royal Festival Hall Foyer, Southbank - 1pm Free
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