Alphea, by the Hamburg duo of veteran bassist Peter Niklas Wilson (Anthony Braxton, John Tchicai, Marion Brown, Derek Bailey, et al.) and saxophonist and visual artist Hannes Wienert, presents an interesting construct. The duo makes a music that is equal parts improvisation and composition, and bases itself in sonorities and harmonic studies rather than in melodies and improvisational acrobatics. They are surprisingly "inside" for how adventurous the music on this CD is. Alphea's tunes -- and they are all originals or collaborations with one another -- reflect a noir-ish side of jazz and a European sense of adventure and restraint. There is very little "free jazz" on the disc. Tonal explorations, and the relationship of harmonic architecture as it exists between alto, soprano, and trumpet and the double bass -- and the attendant, sometimes fickle sonances -- are what's at issue. They express these musical concerns through accessible forms, such as '50s cool jazz, post-bop idiomatics, and what the pair perceives as "film music." "Crayfish's Return" is a noir-ish blues that focuses on the alto playing through a cross section of blues and swing modalities; as Wilson's bass opens up a gateway for new tempos and overtonal improvisation from within, he moves far to the left of his partner, bowing, scraping, and popping chords in assent to the bluesed-out wailing and angular arpeggios trotted out by Wienert. On "Dream Reader Meeting," Wienert does his best Steve Lacy, creating a wailing singsong melody in B flat, with 6/4 time chorded in triple time by Wilson! The accents are actually mode changes, flopping back and forth between stinging blues and '60s modal considerations, with harmonic questions and answers floating back and forth across what seems to be a melody, but is actually a ghostly kind of aggressive harmonic resonance. There is little on this set that doesn't surprise or shock. The musical and innovative qualities displayed here are off the register in terms of structured composition and restrained improvisation. If this set is their debut, and the language is already this sophisticated and intimate, then listeners need a another dozen -- and quickly -- if only to see how this duo develops every step of the way.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek