by Ian Mann
April 05, 2009
Loud, brash and iconoclastic but imbued with a sharp musical intelligence and a waspish sense of humour
One of the most remarkable ACT releases of recent years was 2007’s “Shreefpunk Plus Strings” the extraordinary début recording by Shreefpunk, the group led by young German trumpeter Matthias Schriefl. Now twenty seven Schriefl has won a host of awards in his native country and his band have acquired a reputation as a formidable if unpredictable live act.
This side of the group’s performance is documented on this, their eagerly awaited second album on ACT’s “Young German Jazz” imprint. In a superb value for money package none of the material is reprised from the first album and the record encompasses two very different live performances.
The bulk of the recording comprises of a performance by the core Shreefpunk quartet at Koln’s Stadtgarten venue. Schriefl is joined by regular group members Johannes Behr (guitars), Robert Landfermann (double bass) and Jens Duppe (drums). The album is augmented by a further three items recorded at the Philharmonie venue and features the group augmented by the string quartet of Hannah Weirich and Nadine- Goussi Aguigah (violins), Axel Porath (viola) and Thomas Schmitz (cello). There is also a very special guest in the form of the UK’s own Django Bates on piano, keyboards and e-flat peckhorn. Schriefl was a teenage fan of Bates’ remarkable music and the combination of these two musical mavericks sharing a stage is worth the price of admission alone.
This, coupled with the performances of the regular group make “Live In Koln” a significant musical document.
Shreefpunk’s music combines electric jazz with rock and classical elements delivered with an almost punk like attitude and intensity. As Schriefl’s liner notes ( a welcome change from some of ACT’s more stilted efforts) make clear the group also share an ironic sense of humour. Like label mates the Jorg Brinkmann Trio these are Germans who know how to have fun. Their free-wheeling music constantly flits from one mood to another, often in the course of the same tune, with an impish sense of humour common to both Schriefl and his one time inspiration, Bates.
The opening “Flying To New York” is a case in point. Behr’s Black Sabbath style power chording and wigged out soloing combines with cod choral passages, doomy arco bass and electric era Miles style trumpeting to create an immensely powerful opening statement. It’s a defiantly attention grabbing opener, like a darker, more adult “Hocus Pocus” for the 21st Century.
“Blute” is altogether more delicate, a beguiling mix of ruminative trumpet, atmospheric guitar and shimmering percussion. The second half of the tune morphs into something more full blooded but the whole thing is unmistakably contemporary.
“Baustelle” takes it’s title from a building site. It incorporates suitably industrial strength rhythms alongside such bizarre items as cowbells from Schriefl’s native Allgau region and a selection of children’s toys, a sound source also used by the Brinkmann trio. With Behr’s metallic riffing and Duppe’s thunderous drumming alongside the leader’s stentorian trumpet it’s awesomely heavy but ultimately great fun.
“Fiarn Sepp”, a dedication to Schriefl’s brother lowers the temperature with the leader’s breathy trumpet and Behr’s acoustic guitar. It’s also a feature for bassist Landfermann who takes the instrumental honours with a fluent solo.
“Wien”, “Munchen” and “Rom” appear back to back and were all written on the road during the group’s 2007 Autumn tour. Each tune was debuted at the city in question. The tunes are an extraordinary collision of styles from circus music to faux Dixieland to avant rock and heavy metal plus several other points in between. It’s all brash, irreverent and once again tremendous fun.
The ghostly “KVB” quietens things down again. It’s a sound picture of the lonely, late night atmosphere of a deserted station on Koln’s underground system. It’s the sort of subject matter Kraftwerk might have drawn on for inspiration but Schriefl’s brooding portrait of his adopted city is indisputably jazz and indisputably his own.
“KVB” concludes the first part of the album. For the following “Gerausche In Der Nachbarschaft” (literally “Noises In The Neighbourhood”) the venue switches and the band are joined on-stage by the great Django Bates. “Gerausche..” is the longest tune on the album and is suitably cinematic in scope with a distinctly urban feel. Bates contributes a rambling, characteristically idiosyncratic piano solo. After the earlier atmospherics the piece concludes with a typically gargantuan Shreefpunk riff with Bates now on synthesiser.
“Regen” (“Rain”) introduces the string quartet and is suitably dolorous. The strings are used atmospherically to suggest the patter of raindrops and to provide the lush textures cushioning Schriefl’s flugel horn. Bates reveals the gentler side of his musical personality with his delicate piano intro.
“Kolsche Karnickel” (“Koln Bunnies”) is an eccentric, crowd pleasing closer. It simultaneously honours both the rabbits in Koln’s Media Park and the German carnival brass band tradition. As in much of Schriefl’s music a strong element of pastiche is present but this is a gently mocking humour that displays a genuine affection and respect for those it targets. Although Bates is often regarded as being “quintessentially English” there is no doubt that he and the young German share a common language of musical humour and a generally benign eccentricity.
“Live In Koln” is an “in your face” release that may dismay the jazz purists. Nevertheless it displays all the characteristics that distinguish the best jazz. The playing is technically brilliant, particularly the leader’s dynamic, multiphonic trumpeting and the group’s artful use of contrast and dynamics ensures that Shreefpunk’s constantly evolving music consistently delivers ” the sound of surprise”.
So is it punk? Well not exactly. Schriefl uses the word to describe an attitude rather than a musical style. He likes taking musical risks and doesn’t mind if he upsets a few people along the way. His music may be loud, brash, iconoclastic and full of rock influences but it is imbued with a sharp musical intelligence and a waspish sense of humour. Shreefpunk share these qualities with many of the British “post jazz” bands such as Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear, Led Bib and Get The Blessing. Fans of these groups are almost certain to like the distinctive Shreefpunk sound.
UK fans will get a unique chance to see the core group when they perform at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on April 17th 2009. The group will appear in the Theatre Bar at 5.30 pm as part of Birmingham Jazz’s “Rush Hour Blues” series in collaboration with the ECHO (European Concert Halls Organisation) initiative. Amazingly this will be a free performance. The Jazzmann hopes to be in attendance and to report on this extraordinary group first hand.blog comments powered by Disqus