(Stoney Lane Records/Impossible Ark Records vinyl)
There are three LPs of music in this beautifully produced limited edition package, and all the music is available to download as well, though it would be a pity to miss out on the vinyl sound, the striking artwork and the liner notes by John Fordham.
Retrospection One is from 2011 and features a 12-piece horn section, with Koller on piano, Steve Swallow on bass and Jeff Williams on drums. There are original pieces by Koller and Williams as well as Lennie Tristano’s 317 East 32nd Street and Charlie Parker’s Ah-leu-cha. Retrospection Two from 2013 is an 11-piece band including French horn, two guitars, Koller on trombone or Wurlitzer, and with Christine Tobin singing on a couple of tracks. All are Koller’s compositions with the exception of his arrangement of a Bach chorale, and Herbie Nichols’ The Gig. Retrospection Three, from 2014, has Koller on piano with the NDR Big Band, and all the writing is Koller’s.
All the arrangements on the three discs are his too, and that for me is the crucial thing. The personnel may change, the year and compositions may be different (with the exception of his two-part Half Of Life which appears in the latter two discs, and Automat which appears on One and Three), and the soloists may have room to express themselves, but the character of the music is remarkably cohesive and distinct, and that’s because the man at the helm has such a strong personal approach to music and so successfully expresses himself through it, whether playing a piano solo or writing for 16 other musicians.
Sure, one might hear some of Koller’s declared influences – from Gil Evans and Lennie Tristano in jazz to 20th century composers like Berg and Webern – but for me his music has always sounded so distinctively like the man himself, and him alone.
The difficulty comes when trying to describe that sound – the emotional effects of those harmonies, the feeling of those melodies – because for me they are bound up in a multitude of apparent contradictions: there seems such a strong compostional and arranging hand at work, and yet there is loads of space and opportunity in the music for the personal inputs of the players Koller loves to work with (e.g. Percy Pursglove, John O’Gallagher, Jeff Williams); there is an introspective, intellectual quality about the music but also a searching spirituality; there is a tartness in the harmony but it isn’t harsh or sour; there is no sweetness here and yet there is warmth; it’s all deeply serious but there is a smile lurking at the corner of the mouth; it’s both strong and strenuous, yet also gentle and pliant; it’s in many ways reserved and cool, yet also generous.
There may be no easy answers, then, but it’s still full of love: for the music, for Hans’ fellow musicians, for the act of communication itself, the chance to play for people, the opportunity to be heard. A listener can feel the love in this music.
Hans Koller has made some fine music in the past, but Retrospection feels like a real leap forward. One album on its own would be solid evidence of that; three all at once is an abundance of riches. Buy a limited edition set before they all go is my advice – this is not just a purchase for this year but an investment in your listening future.
- There is more about this Stoney Lane release – and you can visit the Emporium – here.
Categories: LP review