Hans Koller

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Reviews of Hans Koller


10/05/2005 HK's notes on the pieces from LONDON EAR with Steve Lacy

‘London Ear’ is a simple melody written with Steve’s sound and inflection in mind. Originally, I thought it would be just Steve and the rhythm section but when I played the opening figure of the accompaniment on the piano I heard the trombones going in opposite directions. So I orchestrated it for low brass and one low (lone) ranging saxophone (I run out of trombones) and skipped the piano playing.

‘Filles de Kilimanjaro’ is all about the spaces happening between the phrases. Traditionally, you’d create momentum with a chord cycle implying tension and resolution contours. Here though, the melodies and the silences move the music along without the strictures of a fixed length. It’s more like feeling the pulse. It’s like breathing in and out. On Miles’ original recording from 1968 Herbie Hancock improvises an accompaniment to an imaginary solo. I always loved that bit on the record. When it came to playing the piece with my band I pretended that this was all part of the melody. Essentially, I looked to take in the original texture as much as possible and to envelop all this in a new timbre.

‘Slow is the Colour of Love’ has melodies simultaneously that happen with irregularity and tentative-ness, without being led by anyone in particular, only getting assured eventually, when things simplify, lighten and open up for improvising. It’s a through-composed piece, unfolding slowly and without repetitions. ‘I believe in happiness but not that it lasts’ says Michelangelo Antonioni. I hope things aren’t already decided.

‘Braving the Elements’ first of all was about football in the winter season (here in England we say the league isn’t won in September). Formally, the piece is inspired by Thelonious Monk’s ‘Epistrophy’ a masterpiece of musical economy. I don’t remember any verbal communication with Steve about how to play on the piece; he knew what the piece was supposed to be immediately, he knew where to find it and then he took it elsewhere!

‘Blame it on my Youth’ is an old standard, which I first heard on a Keith Jarrett trio record. I learnt the melody first, then took it out of the 32bar context and composed a completely new background for it. I ended up needing only one chorus, and just a little cadenza at the end, which Claus delivered beautifully. This arrangement is dedicated to Mike Gibbs.

‘Blinks’ is so Steve! It is basically just a little intro and an 8bar stanza-like figure but there is so much music to it. The possibilities are endless. (‘We can do a lot of blinking’ he said.) I composed 12 small fragmentary variations, which are cued in and thrown in among the duet – ing of him with Gene. He had sent me a lead sheet through the post before. It had a picture of Edward ‘Kid’ Ory on it.

‘The Touch of your Lips’ stays within song form, with its beautiful original melody by Ray Noble. I completed the arrangement at a time when an old cassette of Shostakovich’s piano preludes and fugues was stuck in the tape machine in the kitchen, so you hear the odd harmonic interference (I started in Bb and ended up in E) but I think the overall feel is ballad, pure and simple.
‘Home’ is based on this little idea I had that whenever I change a root note I don’t change the upper structure of melody and harmony, and vice versa. So I bumped into this 18 bar sequence. I wrote it on my father’s piano, which seems a lot brighter and still somewhat cooler than mine here in London. The piece starts off with a magnificent Mike Williams solo, then has the whole band playing a composed improvisation, and finishes with the vibrant soul mate Claus.

‘Marshmallow’ is a line by Warne Marsh, based on the song ‘Cherokee’. I have always been massively into the Tristano thing; it was one of the first jazz I heard and got truly hooked on. I love the way the bar lines disappear. This arrangement is pretty straight - forward, except for the last chorus when one half of the horns start chasing the other half.

‘Filles de Kilimanjaro’ (reprise) was the first thing we did in the studio. Normal procedure for me used to be to do a take and then another one for safety or simply for choice. I had no idea that Steve would turn the second take into a completely new piece, leaving me with no safe choice but to include it among the other pieces.


22/04/2005 John Fordham on WILD ROSES (the guardian)

An increasingly significant figure on the UK scene over recent years, young composer/player Koller occupies the piano chair in Mike Gibbs' occasional big-band appearances and is currently director of Jazz Composition at the Birmingham Conservatoire - and he was an inspired guide to the old London Vortex club's Sunday night open-jam sessions until the original venue's closure.
Koller's work for big ensembles probably displays his formidable vision most effectively, since in that context he sounds on the way to becoming a descendent of the post Gil Evans school of orchestral writing - to eventually rival Maria Schneider or even Carla Bley. This disc explores Koller's effervescent piano-playing in classic trio circumstances, with the hard-driving support of bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Gene Calderazzo.

The repertoire includes Herbie Nichols 2300 Skidoo and The Third World, Charles Mingus's Peggy's Blue Skylight, two Monk tunes and three originals. Koller plays beautifully off the rhythm section (check his patient improv development on the title track) and understands Monk's rhythmic sense and ability to hint at half-stated turns and resolutions. Fluent, original, and effortlessly virtuosic without losing its expressive warmth.


06/09/2002 John Fordham on NEW MEMORIES (the guardian)

This is the most expansive, expressive and exciting new jazz orchestral sound to have appeared in this country since the late-lamented Loose Tubes. German-born pianist/composer Koller is a protege of Mike Gibbs. Like Gibbs, Koller favours multi-linear intricacies going every which way rather than the more orderly rhythmic march of the riff. His contrasts of the textures of brass and reeds are often wild and thrilling, and he makes improvisations grow out of the heaving, tidal movements of the harmonies in ways that undermine all the traditional formulaic relationships of jazz big bands and their soloists. Apart from Gibbs, Koller's audible influences are Gil Evans and to a lesser extent Charles Mingus, and the music on New Memories (which features a mix of upcoming young players and old hands, and includes trumpeter Henry Lowther, saxophonist Julian Siegel and drummer Gene Calderazzo) represents an often breathtaking case of the book on big-band jazz being rewritten. If the set has a downside, it is that Koller is so fascinated by harmonic and textural movement with jazz instruments that one or two of the pieces occasionally resemble academic exercises in the art, but for the most part both the written and the spontaneous standards are impeccable. All the pieces are originals, except for My One and Only Love - a radical rearrangement in which all the usual accents and emphases are smoothed out. The other pieces include exhilarating Gibbs-like fanfares and wriggling multi-melody features, slow trombone-anchored reveries over quiet Latin grooves, and trance-like exchanges of understated melody with deep brass building insinuatingly beneath. A formidable set.


10/12/0005 Julian Cowley on LONDON EAR (the wire)

The Luton based 33JAZZ label, run by former People Band member Paul Jolly, tends to steer a smooth mainstream course. Occasionally it casts up something less predictable and with LONDON EAR it delivers a real coup; this was inimitable soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy's last recorded performance. The context is a polished, large ensemble session under the direction of Hans Koller, who also plays Fender Rhodes electric piano. Koller is an igenious, well equipped and tasteful arranger, whose most obvious debt is to Mike Gibbs. Indeed, with perhaps a wry touch of modesty, Koller makes Gibbs dedicatee of his surprising and persuasive version of the jazz standard "Blame it on my Youth". Ultimately, though, Koller is his own man, putting afreshly personal stamp even on Miles Davis's "Filles de Kilimanjaro", which the group runs through twice.
The presence of Lacy speaks volumes, of course, and he takes a major role, sounding comfortably at home and on great form despite the health problems that soon after led to his death. Probing the Davis theme, spinning out from the core of Warne Marsh's "Marshmallow", and elaborating his won composition, "Blinks", he sounds as always both spontaneous and thoroughly considered, intensely methodical and by the same means exhilarating. Koller's settings and embellishments correspond beautifully to the contours of Lacy's sinuous improvisational logic, to his idiosyncratic phrasing and singular tone. A real accomplishment, that, which whets the appetite for his latest project with Evan Parker guesting.
Koller's own compositions are weighty enough for the occasion, and the group - including guitarist Phil Robson, saxophonist Mike Williams and trumpeters Henry Lowther and Claus Stoetter - are fully charged as they track the convolutions and gloss the margins. Jolly tells me that after the recording session, drummer Gene Calderazzo approached Lacy and said, "That was really great playing, it was real fun". After a long pause, Lacy smiled, "Yeah man, it's always worth trying." In Lacy's case, it always was. LONDON EAR should be heard for his uplifting contribution, but no less for what Koller has achieved.


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