That exciting moment when a ‘bunch of wrong notes sound wonderful’

Hans Koller

Hans Koller

There’s a humdinger of a concert on Saturday at the CBSO Centre. Hans Koller, pianist, composer, arranger, band leader (for Michael Gibbs no less!) and educator, is bringing his ambitious Twelve Re-inventions for George Russell to the stage for its first performance.

Russell was a real innovator of musical theory and if his book Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization doesn’t exactly sound like airport lit, have no fear because if anyone can make the apparently difficult sound really appealing and much easier to like than you had thought, that man is Hans Koller.

Hans’s manifest delight in music (not least that of others, which is what makes him such a fine educator and spreader of the jazz word) is truly infectious.

Talking to John Fordham of the Guardian back in 2014, he explained the attraction of Russell’s theory:

“Russell thought of a mode as colour rather than a function – or as colour on top of function, because the beauty of it is that you can combine this approach and a jazz-standards one, and have the best of both worlds. That’s why this doesn’t turn into contemporary-classical music, but keeps the jazz earthiness, in jazz you don’t throw anything out, whereas the contemporary-classical guys wanted to remove things that had been there before. And that’s why it’s liberating, and why I love jazz more than anything else.”

I suspect that music played according to Russell’s “rules” sounds a little more familiar to us in the 21st century jazz audience than it did back in the 1950s, because quite a lot of players have been incorporating it into their composition and improvisation in the intervening years. Russell moved to Scandinavia in 1964 and the Norwegian scene, especially, is indebted to his influence. He was the 19-year-old Jan Garbarek’s mentor, for example.

Hans Koller says: “I couldn’t believe how his music could be so intensely chromatic, and at the same time so groovy… Russell has a great way of making a whole bunch of wrong notes sound wonderful.”

With Koller on Saturday will be alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher who has been doing his own jazz/classical crossover by refashioning the music of Webern in a jazz manner. The band is completed by Percy Pursglove on bass, Jeff Williams on drums with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group players, including another cross-over specialist, Melinda Maxwell, on oboe and cor anglais.

Twelve Re-inventions for George Russell, a Jazzlines commission, will be played in the first half and the Hans Koller Quartet will do their thing in the second. The music starts at 8pm in the CBSO Centre, there will be a free pre-concert talk with Hans and John at 7pm, and afterwards there is a pre-release party in celebration of Hans Koller’s triple vinyl set, Retrospection, which comes out on Stoney Lane Records on 15 April.

  • This is a Jazzlines collaboration with the Frontiers Festival. More information and booking are here.
  • And Take Five Minutes With…, a short Q&A with Hans, is here

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