Nicole Johänntgen - Henry III
Nicole Johänntgen - saxophone, composition
Jon Ramm - trombone
Steven Glenn - sousaphone
Paul Thibodeaux - drums
Saxophonist Nicole Johänntgen recorded the new album on tape during a live concert at Domicil Pforzheim. Quite in the old manner. Nostalgia comes up. You can feel how familiar and eager to play the four musicians are.
Henry has developed into a dynasty; the current owner bears the title Henry III. His empire is the oldest of its genre: jazz à la New Orleans. The grandson is unmistakably a child of his musical ancestors, especially the founder of the Henry dynasty: Her Ladyship Nicole I.
Darkly, the frequencies of sousaphone (a kind of portable tuba) and trombone resound with earthy warmth. The tones feed from the depths and lay that power in the music against which the other instruments have to measure themselves, which do not come close to the sound full of boom. For the low-pitched instruments define the traditional two-bar New Orleans necessary. The indispensable snare and bass drums then define sufficiently. In the past, this also required two men for drumming. Precisely because the New Orleans style "constituted" itself as a street or marching band. So walking, also marching - one, two, one, two - and playing cool or hot. Today - in the sense of a rationalized way of playing - Paul Thibodeaux has to trouble his snare drum alone.
Here & Now
The saxophone was not originally included at all. Consequently, we have here a real break with tradition when Nicole Johänntgen puts her alto saxophone at the service of the New Orleans style. The alto is then responsible for the airy sequences, the melodic expressions, it refreshes the sound with high as well as bright timbres including the female emancipation of the genre. How can the Louisiana sound - after its more than 100-year history - sound updated? And how does this jazz sound in the "small" quartet? One thing should be anticipated. The music of Henry III really puts you in a good mood.
The titles in detail.
Striding à la New Orleans
The bass hums softly, the drums beat cautiously, leaving the theme to the others. Now the trombone and the alto meet in an interplay, permanently throwing the balls to each other: Blow a note. Yes, I will, but now you. And so it goes on... at first deliberately, then increasingly more agitated. The life theme sounds a bit melancholic.
Drums and Sousa start quietly. Staccato beat as well as melody make the beginning with a touch of November blues. The harmonic events take shape in the dialogue between trombone and saxophone, which act according to the call and response principle. One of them leads, the other follows, then everything in reverse. Bass and drums play their part unflinchingly, not letting anything stop them from their rhythm. At the end the wind instruments agree on harmonies played in unison.
Funky & Fun
This already starts dancing. A blown touch of disco fox - one, two, tap - plus a strong breeze of funky Louisiana waft over. The trombone shows the way. Now the alto joins in and both improvise together in a collective - occasionally in a collective low, then in a collective high. The drums replace a whole marching band. In the old days in this country - when there were still brass bands - this was called a Spielmannszug. Spielfrauenzüge were almost non-existent - that has changed, as have the current names for them.
The snare drum rattles off, the bass follows, both always in front, encouraging the brass to join in. They don't let themselves be asked for long and lay down a nice horn section: an accentuated motif, a briefly blown rhythmic riff. There's catchy soul in the loops of the horns, plus a dash of funk. Then there are poignant solos from bass and drums that last longer. Then, after repeating the melodic motif, it's over.
Sweet and Honest
Ballad-like tones to start. Alone, only the lines of the alto saxophone are heard. The sax introduces the theme, the band joins in. Bass and trombone provide the ostinato figure for the singing alto. Then the sousaphone alone has to give the beat, the trombone moves into the camp of improvisation ..... Because this works so well, there is another ball toss of trombone brass and wood. Now the sousaphone can be heard solo: this is bass sound that carries everything away, that grabs everyone, that thunders like a musical galaxy of its own. A double bass can't keep up with this depth and heaviness. That's why there is none.
Ballads or songs for a good night's sleep, also known as lullabies and much sought after. Yes, the falling asleep thing probably won't work out that way, because you want to keep listening to the music. And then you do fall asleep.
It swings nicely: good mood, good atmosphere. The beat soon becomes swinging in the style of a funky beat. Again bass Steven Glenn blows the figures out of his body and soul - hard work. If there should be a working class in jazz, then that: Tubists and sousaphonists. Without their breath of hot and cool, nothing works. The music stands still... if that's what your strong breath wants. Now the sound sounds like witches' Sabbath - organic and sustainable? Maybe, but certainly jazzy, 100% current New Orleans.
It usually blows from the front, here it blows - driving the music ahead - from behind. A classic genre rhythm, the horns drop in, the theme flashes, then Jon Ramm's trombone is allowed to blast fanfares into the air. Again a teasing row play is announced. One, two bars and it's the next one's turn, the next one can take over. This is now Nicole Johänntgen, who in the best sax manner - tight, staccato, bleating blowing - makes her way through the theme, gives vent to her ideas. The playing animates the whole band into an unleashed frenzy of wild collective improvisation. A drum solo bridges the gap until the theme is played again, the airstream dissipating.
Play leisurely, pace with deliberation, just don't get scared, because this ballad is filled with disturbing melancholy. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, it sounds beautifully sad- sadly beautiful. A classic song for every funeral - at least for the way there. For the way back the other tracks are more suitable. Big Deep - That's Tradition, That's Modern Sound of Henry III. As a reward there's a polyphonic singing - that's almost too much of a good thing.
Text: Cosmo Scharmer