When it comes to hosting great modern jazz piano trios, Laeiszhalle, the lovely concert hall in Hamburg, has what the police might call “previous”. This was where E.S.T. made their finest concert recording (possibly their finest ever recording) in November 2006. And if the Michael Wollny Trio (Eric Schaefer on drums; Christian Weber on bass) in November 2015 is not quite up there with the Swedish trio in terms of career best performance and ecstatic atmosphere, it’s surely not far behind.
The programme is much the same as the trio’s late 2015 release Nachtfahrten – a mix of Wollny and Schaefer originals with an arrangment of Alban Berg’s Nacht, some Guillaume de Machaut and White Moon, from Wollny’s one-time teacher Chris Beier, all prefaced by the band’s masterpiece of quiet attention-grabbing: Angelo Badalamenti’s melody from the cult TV series Twin Peaks, Questions In A World Of Blue.
It’s in the Machaut that the band is at its most atmospheric and abstract, drawing a wide range of sounds from their instruments, including thunder rumbles of grand piano topped by lightning flashes of cymbals and bass string harmonics, before they pick out the Medieval composer’s melody; Wollny’s Der Wanderer shows his classical touch to great effect; Nachtfahrten makes reference back to the Twin Peaks music in its spaced introductory chords before spreading out into a much more expansive, reflective journeying through darkness and melancholy to an uplifting finale.
The acoustics in this concert hall are glorious and the recording is excellent.
The special collector’s edition of this CD release includes a DVD of another live performance, this one from Forum Leverkusen a year earlier. Some tunes are the same, and the smaller venue makes a perfect space in which to film from every angle. We get fingers up close, faces showing the effort of what goes into a Wollny Trio performances, and the sound is terrific, too.