The Julia Hulsmann Trio achieve a very rare balance on Imprint. Playing jazz in a trio context can be tricky; there is often an inclination to fill the spaces left open in such a setting. Fortunately, Julia Hulsmann (piano), Marc Muellbauer (double bass), and Heinrch Kobberling (drums) have transcended this temptation.
Theirs is a music full of deep reflection, world-class playing, and most importantly, a genuine sense of self-awareness as a unit. It is a quality that seems to inhabit every note on this outstanding 12-song recording. The story the Trio tell on Imprint may be an old one, but it is one well worth repeating: Less is more.
For this, Julia Hulsmann credits producer Mannfred Eicher: “Whenever we felt the temptation to play more busily, he’d remind us that the music must flow. Naturally, we want this too, but sometimes it takes a little courage to leave the pieces alone.”
Opening track “Rond Point” is an example. Julia’s piano plays the main theme quietly for a few moments, while Heinrich Kobberling’s brushes gently comment. It is when we hear the bass of Marc Muellbauer enter that we know exactly what they are aiming for, and the result is pure, stark beauty.
The middle section of “Rituel” is a good example of how well the piano and bass play off of each other. While Julia plays a melody that seems almost an homage to the main theme of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells,” Marc’s bass dances in and around the notes. This soon resolves into one of the busiest tracks of all as they work towards a satisfying conclusion.
Julia Hulsmann’s piano is magnificent throughout Imprint, and I have singled out Marc Muellbauer’s bass as well. But the drumming of Heinrich Kobbering is in many ways the glue that holds everything together. His willingness to use the lightest touch most of the time is perfect for this format. It could not have been easy — after all, the role of the drummer is usually a pretty aggressive one.
He gets the chance to let loose a bit on the final two tracks, “Zahlen bitte,” and “Who’s Next.” “Zahlen bitte” is one of two Imprint tracks composed by Kobbering. It is solidly mid-tempo, with plenty of room for his drums. Coming as it does towards the end is fitting. We have enjoyed some fairly introspective music up to now, and the change of pace is welcome.
The album concludes with Julia’s “Who’s Next,” a bop tune written as a tribute to the great Thelonious Monk, clearly one of her heroes. This is a terrific song. The greatest compliment I can think of is that it would have fit right in on one of Monk’s LPs.
Imprint is a wonderful collection of modern jazz. The word “modern” here is probably inappropriate. In fact, there is nothing particularly modern about the album at all. This music is timeless.