Julia Hülsmann Quartet: Not Far from Here review – Bowie and Miles in the ECM ballpark

Munich’s ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music), the legendary label whose remit – just for starters – has embraced jazz-warped Gregorian chanting, Nordic folksongs, Euro-Asian dialogues, and Keith Jarrett’s long-idolised Köln Concert, celebrates its 50th anniversary in November. Big shows in New York, London, and Brussels show the world’s respect for ECM’s unmodish alchemy of old and new, that has always seemed as natural as breathing to co-founder and continuing helmsman Manfred Eicher. Autumn’s releases have included stars such as Jarrett and Jan Garbarek, but for understated reinvention of the familiar, cool virtuosity, and the seductive ECM sense of a long gestation preceding and succeeding the recording, German pianist and composer Julia Hülsmann’s Not Far from Here is a standout. Hülsmann, who has been releasing subtle ECM gems with trio partners Marc Muellbauer and Heinrich Köbberling on bass and drums for a decade, has now added traditional-to-freeblasting Berlin tenor saxophonist Uli Kempendorff.

The set’s only cover is David Bowie’s This Is Not America, with Kempendorff taking a group version from stealthy insinuation to confrontational split-note wailing, and Hülsmann developing an unaccompanied account as plaintive harmony-shifts against a solemnly tapping repeated note. Sometimes it feels like the 1950s Cool School and Miles Davis’s mid-60s group have become conjoined (notably on Muellbauer’s zigzagging Le Mistral); Hülsmann’s title track is a gently enigmatic sax/piano theme over a soft bass vamp. There are also tender ballads, drum-pattern riddles that turn into swing, and Muellbauer’s Wrong Song is a film noir-like harmony that becomes a sax turmoil. It’s clever, thoughtful, inquisitively contemporary jazzmaking, right in the ECM ballpark.

Also out this month

Exciting, accomplished and political American drummer/composer Terri Lyne Carrington launches her new band Social Science and a powerful double-album, Waiting Game (Motema). Disc one’s urgent raps, soulful a capella, and sharp soloing from keyboardist Aaron Parks and guitarist Matthew Stevens deliver an unflinchingly between-the-eyes polemic on racism, homophobia, prison conditions, gender issues and more – but disc two’s fine Dreams and Desperate Measures suite, including bassist Esperanza Spaulding, is a contrastingly nuanced piece of empathic instrumental spontaneity. The Bad Plus, with new piano recruit Orrin Evans, are in exhilarating shape on Activate Infinity (Edition), with characteristically anthemic but spiky new tunes cohabiting with old faves like Thriftstore Jewelry. And dynamic young Austrian septet Shake Stew, like a folksier Snarky Puppy, rip through their increasingly media-grabbing mix of haunting brass laments, feverish polyphonic folk dances, swarming-bees collective improv and racing drumming on Gris Gris (Traumton Records).