Hans Koller

Magic Mountain

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Pianist Hans Koller's nonet is capable of making some stridently beautiful music, and the Magic Mountain (one has to wonder if the title is based on countryman Thomas Mann's novel or Alejandro Jodorowsky's film) is a suite of orchestral songs that delves deep into the lyric structures of jazz, pre- and post-bop, European salon music, German dancehall waltzes, and yes, classical music post-Mahler. Koller himself is one of the more lyrical improvisers Germany has produced, and as an arranger he owes much to both Gil Evans and Stan Kenton for his lithe, hierarchical impressionism and chromatic dimensionality. One listen to the lilting atmospheric melody of "Dancer Looking at the Right Side of Her Foot," with its long, extended harmonics and blue and gray shades, and the listener is swept under the table with visions of moonbeams and ballet dancers. "Azure" features multiple trombones opening a melodic structure that includes woodwinds playing counterpoint and a trumpet playing an alternate lyric amid a series of triangular turns of phrase and harmonic striations. Finally, the pianism at the entrance to "Soledad," which closes the album, is a somber, reflective meditation on loss, grief, and absence that is carried out with spare colors; a muted palette of clarinet arpeggios and a restraint that is positively heartbreaking. The sense of loss here is almost unimaginable, but is played so subtly and with such gentility that one has to wonder what the orchestra is holding back. This is a remarkable journey by a wonderful, small big band, and Koller himself should be lauded not only for his taste but the grace and aplomb he guides an orchestra with.

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