Heinz Sauer, Michael Wollny, Joachim Kühn If (Blue) Then (Blue) Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

A bittersweet and often beautiful saxophone-piano set.

Kevin Le Gendre 2010

Saxophone-piano duets have a long, illustrious history and the model of the genre – Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock no less – has recently been enriched by impressive works from fellow Americans Rudresh Mahanthappa and Vijay Iyer as well as Brits Jason Yarde and Andrew McCormack.

This offering is a worthy addition to the canon and proof positive of the currently healthy state of German jazz. Tenor saxophonist Sauer has been a highly respected figure on the Deutscher scene since the 50s while his two pianist partners, Michael Wollny and Joachim Kühn, represent the generations that have followed, the former making his presence felt in the last decade while the latter has been active since the 60s and made a notable entry in the sax-piano almanac by way of a whirlwind live set with Ornette Coleman in 1997.

Experience meets experience and youth, then, as Kühn and Wollny alternate as partners with Sauer on a set of 16 fleeting but fulsome etudes that veer from ageless classics such as Miles’ All Blues and Duke’s Sophisticated Lady to earthy but erudite originals by all three players. Rising rarely above ballad pace, all of the songs have a sombre, almost world-weary character that is neatly encapsulated in the raw, raspy sensuality of Sauer’s tone, a sound used with artful economy and that has a clear echo of Archie Shepp’s re-channelling of Ben Webster.

When Kühn leans into the lower reaches of the keyboard and lets his bulkiest chords spread out tantalizingly under the melodic line there is something of Shepp’s late, great duet partner Mal Waldron called into the ether. It is perhaps a reminder that, for all their apparent mutual antipathy, the avant-garde and the mainstream do occasionally meet through the love song, which in jazz has a history of gloomy anguish as well as sunlit romance.

More noble melancholy comes in the shape of a wry original, Still Around Redford, whose Chopin-esque harmony summons up Gainsbourg’s Je suis Venu Te Dire Que Je M’En Vais. As a collection, this set is bittersweet and often beautiful.

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