AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Philipp Gropper’s Philm – Live at Bimhuis (2018; WhyPlayJazz)

Do you like your free jazz loosely structured yet overflowing with ideas and changing at breakneck speed? Good. Because Philipp Gropper has your number.

As stated by the title, this effort was recorded live at the Bimhaus in the Netherlands. The group consisted of Philipp Gropper on sax, Elias Stemeseder on piano and synth, Robert Landfermann on bass, and Oliver Steidle on drums. Together, they lead the listener through seven adventurous tracks.

While the lineup (and at times their improvisational approach) is reminiscent of the classical quartets of the 1960’s, Gropper maintains a modern feel. Critical to this is Stemeseder – he mostly eschews standard chording and leads for percussive piano hammering and subtle synth lines. This provides a jagged and arhythmic foundation from which the rest of the group conduct explorations. But Gropper and company stop short of an extreme or totally outside modus operandi. Instead, they attack from the flank, providing enough melody to attract interest but not too much. Case in point, Gropper’s sax lurches from theme to theme and between styles with understated ease. The result is a near-perfect amalgam of the familiar and strange – the closer you listen, the more there is to hear.

The jazz quartet format has been done so many times over the years that it takes something special in that vein for us to raise our heads and pay attention. Here, we have mostly-conventional instrumentation blending in numerous unconventional ways to produce a gem of a recording. Bravo.