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Hannes Riepler

Wild Life


by Ian Mann

February 05, 2016


The writing and playing on “Wild Life” are first rate with Riepler's consistently melodic but inventive compositions managing to avoid all the usual jazz or rock guitar clichés.

Hannes Riepler

“Wild Life”

(Jellymould Jazz JJ-JM022)

This is to be one of my occasional “Jazz Will Eat Itself” articles.

On 12th January 2016 I witnessed guitarist and composer Hannes Riepler leading his quartet in an excellent performance at Dempsey’s in Cardiff. They were playing music from “Wild Life”, Riepler’s second album as a leader, released today February 5th 2016.

With London based tenor saxophonist George Crowley depping for the American Chris Cheek who plays on the album Riepler and his colleagues gave a superb display, performing seven of the eight tracks from the album in roughly the same running order. Such was the quality of Crowley’s performance that the absence of Cheek was hardly noticed at all.

I don’t want to write a review of the record in which I repeat the comments that I made when covering the live performance but I would like to bring the album to the attention of the jazz audience and add it to the ‘recommends’ list - because “Wild Life” looks set to be one of the best UK based releases of 2016. The qualities that distinguished the Cardiff show are present throughout the recording and repeated listenings have only served to heighten my enjoyment of the music. The writing and playing on “Wild Life” are first rate with Riepler’s consistently melodic but inventive compositions managing to avoid all the usual jazz guitar clichés. He has managed to develop a style that is very much his own.

The one piece that wasn’t played at Cardiff was “Modern Guilt” by Beck which closes the album. The energetic, hard driving arrangement is very much Cheek’s baby and features his throaty tenor sax alongside Riepler’s guitar and the insistent grooves of bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer James Maddren. One senses that the tune was brought to the session by Cheek and represents something of a studio ‘one off’. It’s great fun though, hugely enjoyable and a terrific way to round off an excellent album.

In the great JWEI tradition my review of the Cardiff performance is reproduced below;

Hannes Riepler Quartet, Dempsey’s, Cardiff, 12/01/2016.

The first Dempsey’s jazz gig of 2015 featured a quartet led by the Austrian born, London based guitarist and composer Hannes Riepler.

Riepler moved to the English capital nine years ago and has established himself as a key figure on the city’s jazz scene. His in demand instrumental skills have led to him working with many of London’s leading young jazz musicians and he is also a great organiser and facilitator who has hosted regular jam sessions at venues such as the Con Cellar Bar, Charlie Wright’s and currently The Vortex, where he hosts the weekly Sunday Night Jam.
As a leader Riepler made his album début in 2012 with “The Brave”, a highly promising release on the Jellymould Jazz imprint. He has also recorded as a sideman with groups led by trumpeter Andre Canniere and pianist Esben Tjalve.

February 2015 will see the release of “Wild Life”, Riepler’s second album for Jellymould. The recording features a new quartet line up that came about as a direct consequence of one of those Vortex Sunday night jam sessions. The American saxophonist Chris Cheek was in town and performed alongside Riepler and two other leading London based musicians, bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer James Maddren. The foursome struck up an instant rapport, something that was further developed over the course of a European tour and the recording of this album over the course of two sessions at London’s Eastcote Studios during April and October 2015. The new album features six original compositions by Riepler, one by Chris Cheek and an arrangement of the song “Modern Guilt” by the American rock musician Beck.

Riepler is currently undertaking a short tour to promote the album with further UK dates in Cambridge and London plus a performance in his home city of Innsbruck. Unfortunately Cheek was not available for this first night of the tour and his place was taken by George Crowley who deputised superbly. Cheek has played with musicians of the calibre of Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Steve Swallow, Bill Frisell, Brad Mehldau and Kurt Rosenwinkel so his were pretty big shoes to fill - but Crowley stepped into them superbly. Riepler and Crowley go back a long way, the saxophonist was one of the first musicians that Riepler played with when he initially came to London and the pair obviously have a great respect for each other’s playing. At first I was a little disappointed when I heard that Cheek would not be appearing, he’s a musician I’ve not had the pleasure of seeing live before, but this quickly evaporated thanks to the quality of the music and the excellence of Crowley’s contribution. He’s an excellent sight reader and a versatile saxophonist capable of playing in a variety of jazz styles.

Two lengthy sets saw the quartet playing the majority of the new album, albeit in a slightly different running order, plus a couple of pieces from Riepler’s previous offering “The Brave”. The guitarist’s writing style is unfailingly melodic but behind the attractive tunes there is a good deal of musical sophistication, particularly with regard to the rhythmic interplay between guitar, bass and drums. As a guitarist Riepler prefers a clean, almost orthodox, jazz guitar sound and makes little recourse to effects, he’s one of the few contemporary guitarists I’ve seen lately who hasn’t deployed a pedalboard. However this doesn’t mean that Riepler’s style should be construed as ‘old fashioned’ , he’s fully attuned to contemporary guitar developments and is influenced as much by current players such as Kurt Rosenwinkel and Brad Shepik as he is by Grant Green.

Tonight’s performance began with “One Shot”, the opening track from the new album, which quickly demonstrated Riepler’s flair for melody allied to the sophisticated rhythmic synchronisation between Riepler, Hayhurst and Maddren. The leader took the first solo on his solid bodied Gibson followed by Crowley on melodic and fluent, but subtly probing, tenor sax. Riepler’s guitar arpeggios,which had started the piece, then formed the underpinning for Hayhurst’s pithy and melodic double bass solo on the outro. An excellent start that was warmly applauded by a pleasingly sizeable crowd, bolstered as ever by students from the nearby Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Many of the pieces on “Wild Life” are inspired by the bustling, multi cultural environment of Dalston where Riepler now lives. The street scenes featured on the album’s cover were photographed in the area. Gillett Square, Dalston is the location of The Vortex and the guitarist’s “Gillett Square Blues” is his dedication to his jazz ‘spiritual home’. It’s a piece that accurately depicts the bustle and energy of this part of North London as exemplified by Crowley’s urgent tenor solo above the recurring melodic/rhythmic motif laid down by Riepler and Hayhurst and the restless, ever evolving polyrhythmic flow of Maddren’s drums. Riepler’s own solo featured cleanly picked melodic lines and sophisticated chording, he has developed a personal style that is refreshingly free of the clichés of both jazz and rock.

Despite its title “Wild Life” itself actually had a gentler, almost ballad like, feel with a typically melodic theme providing the basis for thoughtful solos from both Crowley on tenor and Riepler on guitar.

“Nothing New…Just Beautiful” maintained the relatively reflective mood with Maddren deploying brushes in the tune’s opening stages. Like many of Riepler’s compositions the piece began with a recurring guitar figure from which the music developed, opening like a flower via snatches of tenor sax melody, these occasionally doubled by Riepler’s guitar. Hayhurst opened the solos here followed by Riepler on guitar and Crowley on tenor.

The first half concluded with a composition from Riepler’s début album “The Brave” (“The Insomniac” I think, although the title wasn’t mentioned). This began with an elegant, overtly jazzy, passage of unaccompanied guitar (on the album it’s Kit Downes’ solo piano) before the music took a more urgent turn with further solos from Crowley and Riepler and a concluding drum feature from the excellent Maddren, a musician whose playing just gets better. Maddren is something of a local hero thanks to his role as a visiting tutor at RWCMD. He always gets a terrific reception from his charges whenever he plays at Dempsey’s.

The start of the second set found the quartet returning to the “Wild Life” repertoire and the lilting melodicism of “Golden Rainbow” introduced by a duet between Riepler and Crowley and with further solos from both along the way.

Next up was Chris Cheek’s tuneful, accessible and blues inflected “Sailing Ships”, a highly attractive composition introduced by Maddren at the drums and featuring solos from Crowley and Riepler with the saxophonist doing a great job of filling in for the composer.

From the previous album “Pee Wee Killa Instinct” was the closest the quartet got to sounding ‘conventional’ with its tricky, boppish head and energetic solos from each band member, Riepler going first followed by Crowley on tenor, Hayhurst on agile but melodic bass and finally Maddren with another well received drum feature.

Returning to the new album “The Storm” was less tempestuous than its title might suggest, taking a while to build via a typically melodic theme and slow burning solos from Riepler and Crowley until Maddren was finally unleashed again at the drums.

The performance concluded with Riepler returning again to his first album for the taut, riffy “Now Do It” which finished the evening on a relatively energetic note with final solo statements from Riepler and Crowley.

The quartet were very well received but after two lengthy, value for money, sets there was to be no encore. I had hoped that they might return to play the Beck song that closes the album but Riepler informed me that this had been very much Cheek’s baby and represented something of a studio ‘one off’. It may however get an airing when Cheek joins the group for the rest of the tour.

“Wildlife” has already received highly favourable pre-release reviews by my fellow jazz bloggers at Marlbank and Bebop Spoken Here.
In summary, a great first night of the tour for Hannes Riepler and a fabulous start to the New Year for Dempsey’s.


1. One Shot
2. Gillett Square Blues
3. Wild Life
4. Nothing New…Just Beautiful
5. Sailing Ships (Chris Cheek)
6. Golden Rainbow
7. The Storm
8. Modern Guilt (Beck)

Hannes Riepler – guitar

Chris Cheek – tenor saxophone

Oli Hayhurst – double bass

James Maddren - drums

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