A White Line is, in many ways, Austrian composer, arranger, flugelhorn player, and bandleader Franz Koglmann's most controversial work because in it, he dares to use race as a compositional element. His is not merely a cultural dissension but a musical one. A White Line is Koglmann's salute to the white lineage in jazz, from Bix Beiderbecke through to Chet Baker, and including perhaps even one of his guests on this recording: pianist and composer Paul Bley. This is not to say that Koglmann is a racist - emphatically, he is not - nor that he doesn't acknowledge the considerable influence of black musicians on jazz music. He is stating that in fact, he prefers another kind of jazz architecture to "swing." Not that swinging is unimportant or it doesn't move him, but that something else moves him more: "an affinity for the expression of a melancholy decadence." He is looking for detached coolness where swing, European classical music, and the cool jazz of the '50s meet the free improvisation and compositional breakthroughs of the '60s and '80s. On A White Line, Koglmann, in one of his early large-scale works, pays tribute to and cites within his own compositions those great players who made melodic improvisation and harmonic verisimilitude a quiet revolution that has yet to be given its full due: Paul Desmond, Jimmy Giuffre, Shorty Rogers, Red Nichols, Art Pepper, and the like. His rearrangement of Gerry Mulligan's "Festive Minor" must have been smiled upon by Geru himself while he was still alive, and there is Koglmann's "Aristony," which pays gorgeous, complex musical homage to Lennie Tristano by citing his "Intuition," "Crosscurrent," "Wow," "Ablution," and "Digression." That said, given Bley's piano runs and Tony Coe's brilliant, empathetic tenor playing, the tune is firmly the Austrian's. Elsewhere, in arranging Bley's "Free (I-III) Again" and "Bley Play," as well as Gil Evans (the king of the cool jazz arrangers) "Jambangle," Koglmann is truly comfortable in making this music his own; it touches his own conceptions of complex harmony and interstitial melodic invention and still comes out sounding clean, restrained, and beautiful. Koglmann's own compositions are also noteworthy for the beginning of what would become for him an aesthetic years later, and that is his empathy for his players, writing lines that brought out their individual voices while at the same time remaining true to himself as a composer. And despite the purposeful avant-garde twinges here and there, no matter what Koglmann likes more than the other, this record swings quite beautifully. Its only flaw is that he had to make a political statement out of it. But that's an artist for you - rather than keep the lid on racial politics in culture on and under the board, he blows it off and explodes the mess in our faces. Good for him.
- Thom Jurek (All Music Guide)