All About Jazz-New York review by Andrey Henkin

G9 Gipfel – Berlin (Jazzwerkstatt)

Drummer Han Bennink, part of the first wave of truly European jazz musicians, felt that he was continuing, albeit indirectly, a rhythmic tradition coming out of the drum corps of countries like Switzerland and Scotland. Other generations have followed, filled with players who used the accomplishments of Bennink, as well as others like Paul Lovens, Pierre Favre, Aldo Romano or Jacques Thollot (to give one example per country), as a template. German drummer Christian Lillinger, 27, who studied with another accomplished European in Günter Baby Sommer, is part of the latest wave, lending his talents to a wide array of projects. Though he is one of nine participants on Berlin, from G9 Gipfel (meaning “peak”), Lillinger’s drumming is crucial in corralling the various personalities involved. Trombonist Gerhard Gschlössl is the nominal leader of this ensemble but players like trumpeter Axel Dörner, saxist Tobias Delius and bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall are quite capable of yanking the leash of their master. Filling out the nonet are alto saxist Wanja Slavin, guitarist John Schröder, bassist Johannes Fink and, in a very rare turn as a sideman, pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, éminence grisé in European jazz since the ‘60s. Only four contribute compositions but these lurch drunkenly from Gschlössl’s proto-bop swingers reminiscent of mid ‘60s Blue Note and Mahall’s rumpled avant excursion to Dörner’s hypercerebral musing and Fink’s kinetic, almost centerless sketches. So Lillinger has to be all kinds of drummers, as in as he is out, changing radically while maintaining his own aesthetic, all of which he does with a range impressive in one so relatively new to the scene.

First Reason is Lillinger’s debut under his own name, though he has previously released albums with the cooperative group Hyperactive Kid and several
other improvised, leaderless sessions. Delius and Slavin are part of the group, buoyed by the double double basses of Jonas Westergaard and Robert
Landfermann. The elder statesman here is pianist Joachim Kühn, one of the few jazz musicians actively working in what was East Germany in the early ‘60s.
Lillinger features as both writer and player on this album, penning 8 of the 11 tunes but, since this is a debut, it has the typical stylistic waywardness that can
make for an uneven listen. All of the tunes are good, especially the Vandermark-ian workout “Patient” but it is often hard to see how they connect, particularly
the ones featuring Kühn, which sound of another era, perhaps the pianist’s time with BYG-Actuel. The most interesting thing about the album is how, despite
having two horns in the frontline, First Reason is really dominated by the two varying approaches of Westergaard and Landfermann in tandem, Lillinger
skittering around them like a child mischievously running between the legs of his parent.

Lillinger’s latest project is a trio session of eight presumably improvised tunes with pianist Achim Kaufmann and bassist Landfermann. One can’t help
but think of archetypes of the free European piano trio:Howard Riley, Wolfgang Dauner, Siegfried Kessler, Joachim Kühn. Snatches of all those come through on
Grünen, a mélange of proto-classical, subversive swing and folksy impudence. Kaufmann is of an earlier generation of European improvisers, about two
decades older than the rhythm section. But do not presume unspoken leadership of this session. As he’s proven in the aforementioned album, his solo disc Null
and quartet outing Nicht Ohne Robert Volume 1 (also with Lillinger), Landfermann is a player firmly following Europe’s also-mighty bassist tradition. And here Lillinger can punctuate, cajole, react, ignore and bring to the fore all of his breadth as a player in an ensemble one-third the size of Berlin and without worrying about bandleading as on First Reason. As he gets older, Lillinger will be able to dominate a session like a Bennink without seemingly trying to but it’s heartening to see that European avant garde keeps attracting new adherents.

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