Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019

by Ian Mann

April 06, 2022


Eberhard’s writing is multi-faceted, rich in terms of colour, texture & rhythm as she skilfully stitches the eastern & western strands of the music together. Intriguing & beguiling in equal measure.

Potsa Lotsa XL with Youjin Sung


(Trouble in the East Records TITE-REC 026)

Silke Eberhard – alto sax
Jurgen Kupke - clarinet
Nikolas Neuser – trumpet
Patrick Braun – tenor sax, clarinet
Gerhard Gshlossl – trombone
Johannes Fink – cello
Taiko Saito – vibraphone
Antonis Anissegos – piano
Igor Spillati – bass
Kay Lubke – drums

with guest Youjin Sung – gayageum

Potsa Lotsa XL is a contemporary large ensemble led by the German alto saxophonist and composer Silke Eberhard.

Its history dates back to 2010 when Eberhard formed her first Potsa Lotsa line up, a wind quartet dedicated to playing her arrangements of all twenty six of the then extant compositions of the late great multi reed player Eric Dolphy. At this stage the group featured Eberhard on alto sax, Patrick Braun on tenor, Nikolaus Neuser on trumpet and Gerhard Gschlossl on trombone, all of whom feature in the current extended line up. The original Potsa Lotsa quartet has also performed the music of contemporary classical composers such as Giaccinto Scelsi and Kurt Schwitters.

In 2014 Eberhard expanded the ensemble up to interpret Dolphy’s unfinished “Love Suite”, the group now bearing the name Potsa Lotsa Plus.

In 2020 a new tentet, now known as Potsa Lotsa XL, recorded the album “Silk Songs for Space Dogs” which featured Eberhard’s own compositions exclusively. Meanwhile the 2020 Jazzfest Berlin saw the ensemble interpreting the works of Henry Threadgill as part of a Festival commission, with Threadgill giving his blessing for the project. 2020 was a big year for Eberhard and culminated with her winning that year’s Berlin Jazzpreis.

Eberhard has harboured a fascination for traditional Korean music since meeting Min Joung Kim, a virtuoso player of the bowed, zither like instrument the ajaeng at a US residency. She subsequently heard Youjin Sung at a performance by the Asian Art Ensemble in Berlin in 2019. Sung is a virtuoso of the gayageum, a plucked string instrument capable of a wild, string bending effect known as nonghyeon, a sound also associated with the ajaeng. Like the ajaeng the gayageum is a zither like instrument, usually possessing twelve strings, although 18, 21 and 25 string versions exist.

Eberhard and Sung played together frequently on a remote basis during lockdown and Eberhard acquired her own gayageum, an instrument that she managed to track down in Leipzig. This prompted her to write a suite of music based around its harmonic possibilities. The work was composed during a two month residency at the Villa Waldberta in Munich and was written with Sung specifically in mind. When Sung was finally able to return to Germany in May 2021 the suite was recorded at Traumton Studio and released as the album “Gaya”.

It features five pieces simply named one to five but with the titles written in Korean. For the purposes of this review it will be necessary to use the English titles.

My only previous encounter with Eberhard’s playing was back in 2010 when she collaborated with the Scottish trio NeWt (trombonist Chris Greive, guitarist Graeme Stephen and drummer Chris Wallace) on their second album release. Released on the F-ire Presents imprint “NeWt 2 featuring Silke Eberhard”  is favourably reviewed here;

In addition to Potsa Lotsa Eberhard’s current projects include her long running trio with bassist Jan Roder and drummer Kay Lubke  and I Am Three, a Charles Mingus based trio project featuring Nikolaus Neuser on trumpet and Christian Marien on drums. I Am Three have also collaborated with the British improvising vocalist Maggie Nicols.

Matsch & Schnee is a duo project with bassist Maike Hilbig and Eberhard has also worked in other duo collaborations with pianists Ulrich Gumpert,  Celine Voccia and Uwe Oberg. Eberhard and Oberg have also collaborated in a trio with American drummer Gerry Hemingway. She and trumpeter Neuser have also collaborated with the American duo Talibam! featuring Kevin Shea (drums) and Matt Mottel (keytar).

Other international collaborations have included performances with drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, saxophonists Dave Liebman and Dave Rempis, trombonist Slide Hampton, pianists Aki Takase, Wayne Horvitz and Dave Burrell, bassist Michael Formanek, guitarist Joe Morris and many more. A more comprehensive overview of Eberhard’s career, including a full discography can be found on her website

Turning now to the music to be heard on “Gaya”. The first movement is announced by gong like cymbal shimmers and a bass drum motif that ushers in the ensemble, a combination of reeds, brass, strings and percussion. The music combines elements of contemporary classical music, big band jazz and the exotic sounds of the gayageum to create an other worldly sound that is both of the east and of the west. Rich in terms of colour and texture the music is densely written and arranged but still allows windows for self expression. “One” features solo episodes from Sung, vibraphonist Taiko Saito and trumpeter Neuser, who soars gracefully as the music gathers rhythmic momentum, finally adding a little raunch into the equation with his vocalised sounds towards the close.

“Two” commences with the sounds of the gayageum, both plucked and strummed, with the bending of notes a characteristic. Other elements are subtly added to create a series of fascinating rhythmic and melodic patterns,  with Saito’s vibraphone again prominent in the arrangement alongside buzzy reeds and the plucked sounds of gayageum, bass and cello, with piano entering the mix towards the close.

“Three” expands upon the process via tightly knit interlocking rhythms with the gayageum and vibes again vital components. Fink’s cello assumes a melodic role on a piece that again blends elements of jazz and contemporary classical music as it moves through a series of distinct phases, the rhythmic opening leading to an ethereal central passage featuring the delicate sounds of the versatile gayageum, an instrument capable of performing both melodic and rhythmic functions.
The music then gathers momentum to embrace a series free jazz style squalls, with the leader’s alto and Kupke’s clarinet now becoming prominent. Braun’s tenor is also featured before Sung returns with a passage of unaccompanied gayageum before the close.

At a little over ten minutes in duration “Four” is the lengthiest item on the album and begins with a freely structured passage that reflects Eberhard’s prominence on the improvised music scene in Germany and beyond. Sung then takes over on gayageum to lead a more formally written passage featuring buoyant rhythms and flowing melodies. The ensemble playing is commendably tight as the musicians negotiate the twists and turns of Eberhard’s colourful writing, this section leading to a dazzling series of exchanges between Sung and drummer Lubke. Trombonist Gschlossl is then featured as the full ensemble returns to active duty. There’s something of a Loose Tubes quality about the ensemble writing, a reminder of just how significant an influence Django Bates has been on a whole generation of European musicians. Sung then takes over once more and remains prominent in the arrangement as the piece builds towards its resolution.

At a little under a minute and a half in length “Five” is a brief, impressionistic coda featuring the playing of the ensemble in conjunction with Sung.

At twenty nine minutes in length “Gaya” is a short album, particularly by present day standards. Nevertheless what it lacks in terms of quantity is more than made up for in terms of quality. Eberhard’s writing is multi-faceted, rich in terms of colour, texture and rhythm. She skilfully stitches the eastern and western strands of the music together and the overall result is music that is strangely beautiful - intriguing and beguiling in equal measure. It’s effectively a jazz concerto for gayageum, and thus almost certainly unique.

In jazz terms the music attains a good balance between the written and improvised elements and the tentet realise Eberhard’s vision superbly. Eberhard herself is largely content to remain part of the ensemble and leaves the spotlight to Sung and her virtuoso playing of her extraordinary and highly versatile instrument. The gayageum is capable of generating both a surprising rhythmic force and an ethereal melodic beauty.

East is East and West is West – but the twain meets here.


From Lee Paterson via email;

A gorgeous, considered review and great background- good reading, as usual.  Thanks so much!  Silke will be delighted.


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