Heinz Sauer & Michael Wollny
Recorded October 3 + 4, 2005 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo, Norway,
and November 11 and December 16, 2005 at Bauer Studios, Ludwigsburg, Germany.
Sauer, who used to play sax with Albert Mangelsdorff, is a veteran of the German jazz scene and has been evolving his own language since the 1960s. He turned heads with last year's Melancholia - the debut for this duo with young pianist Michael Wollny. This absorbing follow-up mixes Bjork, Thelonious Monk, Prince, Esbjorn Svensson, and others - and it doesn't fall into the traps of mutual navel-gazing or artificial attempts to turn the pianist into the missing rhythm section.
Wollny plays an exquisite I Loves You Porgy as hinted chords and under-the-lid pluckings, Bjork's Where is the Line joins trembling trills to long tenor-drones, and Gil Evans' famous Miles Davis vehicle Blues for Pablo finds Sauer unwinding the horn line against a tumble of busy low-register piano improv. The title track is a slow Mangelsdorff composition of a kind of anguished tenderness, and Lover Man explores Sauer's startling tone-palette. State-of-the-art for the difficult sax-piano duet business.
All Music Guide
Tenor saxophonist Heinz Sauer, who turns 74 this month, was a mainstay of the extraordinary European free jazz experiment of the 1960s. He played with late-sixties incarnations of the Globe Unity Orchestra, alongside a truly mind-boggling array of heavyweights (Derek Bailey, Han Bennink, Willem Breuker, Evan Parker, Alexander von Schlippenbach); he would enjoy an even longer-standing collaboration with trombonist and fellow Globe Unity alum Albert Mangelsdorff, who died in 2005.
Though Sauera's artistic productivity has never flagged, he has recently seized the imagination of the German jazz scene with a pair of duet recordings (Certain Beauty is the second) with pianist Michael Wollny. Wollny in turn is one-third of the critically acclaimed and typographically iconoclastic trio called [em]. The Sauer-Wollny duoa's media appeal is eminently clear: the musicians are separated in age by 46 years. The a bridging-the-generationsa ploy sounds like a gimmick (an impression encouraged by the inclusion of compositions by Bjork and Billy Strayhorn), and the chasm in the players ages probably helps get them into the newspapers. But it's the palpable empathy of their playing that has put this record at or near the top of so many European criticsa best of 2006 lists.
Sauers tone is tremulous, breathy, grainy, paradoxically fragile and firm at the same time; it's not hard to believe he is part of the Peter Bratzmann cohort, but he nevertheless embraces the classic melodies (Nothing Compares 2 U, Chelsea Bridgea) with an wholeheartedness that some of his contemporaries would be incapable of. Wollny is essentially lyrical, but his approach to the piano is persistently irreverent, strumming the strings, muffling notes, and making the hammers stutter the way Gonzalo Rubalcaba does. Together the players exhibit an idiosyncratic abrasiveness that enhances rather than detracts from the considerable charm of the performances.
Fine readings of two Monk tunes mark out the musical territory covered by Sauer and Wollny. Evidencea is all elbows and jarring but playful fits and starts; its restive energy is matched in an aggressive version of Gil Evansa a Blues for Pabloa and Mangelsdorffas title cut, perhaps the recordas finest moment. Ruby My Dear, the second Monk composition, is by contrast keening and bittersweet, as are the lovely Sauer original Believe Beleft Belowa and a Lush Life.
The setting-economical piano/saxophone versions of mostly familiar material-is entirely conventional, but Sauer and Wollny manage to make a record that sounds, subtly, unlike anything else.