Live concerts by the Michael Wollny Trio are always experiences to be treasured. These three ideally matched musicians never fail to find fascinating new directions for the music, or to take the listener by surprise. At the end of October 2015, when Wollny, Weber und Schaefer were setting off on a Karsten Jahnke JazzNights tour, taking in fourteen German cities, the respected German broadsheet the Süddeutsche Zeitung gleefully quipped: “Wollny's off on tour. Just get yourselves there. Awesome!” These hopes and expectations were duly fulfilled. After the tour was over, the critic of the same newspaper wrote: “Wollny has the audience in the palm of his hand, he's testing the boundaries of virtuosity, you start wishing that the buzz of the concert will never end.” These heartfelt words will have resonated with more than 10,000 people who attended the concerts of this much-lauded tour. “Klangspuren” captures the sight and the sound of two quite exceptional performances by Wollny's new trio. This set also serves to demonstrate the leaps and bounds by which the group has progressed artistically in the past two years.
The DVD uses the live video/audio feed from WDR of a concert during the 35. Leverkusener Jazztage, and the programme consisted of the music from “Weltentraum. ”The music is imbued with the spirit romanticism, but there is a fully conscious desire to do something far more ambitious and complex, which is to allow very diverse yet internally coherent and complementary musical materials to work their way through. We encounter Alban Berg and Paul Hindemith. There are quotes from Gustav Mahler, and also a highly imaginative re-hearing of the 14th century “ars nova” innovator Guillaume de Machaut. These composers are all in effect “guests” or “sitters-in” with the trio, and their tunes are so completely absorbed and internalized, they become part of the trio's musical DNA. The German nationwide flagship news program “ZDF heute journal” simply hailed “Weltentraum” as “a masterpiece.”
This was album which put the seal on Wollny's international breakthrough. It was named Album of the Year in 2014 by both Jazzwise in the UK and Jazzthing in Germany. In France it led to Wollny being crowned as European Jazz Musician of the Year by the Académie du Jazz. In Germany it didn't just pick up three ECHO Jazz Awards, it even made its way into the Top 50 of the official pop charts.
There is astonishing internal coherence in the trio.
The concert in Leverkusen was one of the very first in the new format with Christian Weber, and yet the bassist sounds as if he's been around in the band for ever. On the other hand. the trio, recorded live [eleven months later] on the 13th November 2015 is at the peak of its powers. This was the final concert and the culmination of the barnstorming “Nachtfahrten” JazzNights Tour. The emphasis here is on the band's lyrical side and their wonderful capacity to float a ballad. The tunes inspired by the night come across in a refined and condensed form, and vivid pictures emerge in the imagination. It is as if Wollny is directing a film, and has selected not just his own compositions, but also selected works by other people with whom he feels a particularly strong and close affinity. There is film music from the David Lynch series “Twin Peaks, ” but also a composition by Wollny's teacher from an early phase of his development Chris Beier, and once again Guillaume de Machaut. The trio were playing for a sold out Laeiszhalle in Hamburg, and reached an unprecedented level of intensity, raising their game to completely new levels. The Hamburger Albumblatt found the right superlatives to describe this concert: “Michael Wollny has definitively arrived as a musician of world class.”
These two snapshots of the Michael Wollny Trio in live situations show the trio's infinite capacity to “morph in mood and dart this way and that” (Financial Times), to cross styles and epochs, to play at very different levels of intensity. This is timeless music rooted in the here and now.
"The consummate piano maestro: One can justifiably name Wollny alongside phenomena like Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, Stefano Bollani and Paul Bley. He has everything you can demand of a perfect jazz pianist: masterly technique, exuberant imagination, discipline and a talent for creative chaos, sensitivity and aestheticism." FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG
"The only German jazzer with international star appeal." SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG
"The biggest (jazz) musician personality that Germany has produced since Albert Mangelsdorff." HAMBURGER ABENDBLATT
"This is what the future of German jazz sounds like." DAS ERSTE, TTT
"The most exciting contemporary German jazz pianist." DIE WELT
Michael Wollny, born in 1978 in Schweinfurt, internationally successful jazz pianist, music inventor, unconventional thinker, popular figure. Nobody plays piano like him. His trademark: the unpredictable, the quest for the never-before-heard, the courage to devote himself to the moment, to make the unforeseen sound self-evident. His desire to keep reinventing himself, both in terms of sound and composition; that is what makes him a "consummate piano maestro" (FAZ). Ever since his ACT debut in 2005 "call it [em]", Michael Wollny has been causing a furore in the widest range of projects:
With his contribution to the ACT series Piano Works, Michael Wollny proves that he is one of the most noteworthy pianists in the world: For his solo debut he withdrew to the Island of Gotland for a month in the summer of 2006 and listened to a lot of Schubert, Steve Reich, Björk and Joachim Kühn. Then he performed alone on the grand piano at the JazzBaltica for the first time, alongside colleagues like Brad Mehldau, Marcin Wasilewski and Kenny Barron – and at the end of February 2007 he brought out Hexentanz. The critics all agreed in rare unison: "Wollny is the great hope of intelligent piano jazz from Germany." (WELT) For this work Wollny was also awarded the Disque d'emoi 2007 by the French Jazz Magazine.
The "grand master of the saxophone" (DIE ZEIT) Heinz Sauer discovered Michael Wollny for the first time at the hr Jazz Ensemble. The two performed for the first time as a duet in Darmstadt's Literaturhaus, more or less by chance. Without time to discuss the performance in advance, they had to revert to free improvisation. The evening was a rousing success and had consequences. "One of the great saxophone individualists and the greatest German piano talent develop fascinating dialogues full of unsentimental warmth, with often surprising punch lines. You want to keep listening to them forever," wrote the Munich newspaper TZ, when in early 2005 their first joint album came out: Melancholia. DIE ZEIT discovered fundamental qualities in the genuine expressiveness of this generation-crossing duo, and exalted: "Jazz comes back to life here". The WELT am Sonntag paper counted it among "the best that German jazz has to offer". "Give up the control and see what happens" is how Wollny describes the credo of playing together with Sauer, the credo that provides the foundation for their improvisations created out of ease and serenity, just as much as for the explorations of their own compositions that they present to each other - or the paths they take through classics by Thelonious Monk and Billie Holiday. And in doing so they extended their radius at breakneck speed: On Certain Beauty the base camps of their expeditions bear names like Gershwin, Gil Evans, Björk and Prince. The album caused quite a stir, also outside of Germany. In France, the renowned magazine Jazzman called it the jazz CD of 2006, awarding it the CHOC. The highly concentrated dialogues don't waste any words; the melancholy attitude comes from profound experience of life. If (Blue) Then (Blue) is the name of the follow-up album, which showcases Heinz Sauer in two duets: alternating between the pianists Michael Wollny and Joachim Kühn. "Quite simply a master stroke!" is how the magazine Stereoplay described it. The duo's fourth album Don't Explain came out on Sauer's 80th birthday – recorded live in Darmstadt. It is a musical tight-rope act without a net, that the French Jazz Magazine crowned its Album of the Year. The German jazz critics acknowledged the recording with the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik award.
In September 2008, Wollny joined forces in a duet concert with Joachim Kühn at the ACT festival "Jazz and Friendship" at Elmau Castle. The result of this intense, pinnacle piano moment is captured on the CD Piano Works IX: Joachim Kühn und Michael Wollny live at Schloss Elmau, which came out in March 2009.
Michael Wollny's Wunderkammer in a duet with harpsichordist Tamar Halperin was the launching pad into a new era of Michael Wollny's career in late 2009. On it, together with harpsichordist Tamar Halperin, Wollny seeks out the never-before-heard and embarks on a magical sound trip. The pianist, who repeatedly manages to surprise his listeners and himself with his music, was subsequently raised to the peak of European jazz, being awarded the coveted ECHO Jazz for the best German pianist. The newspaper die Welt spoke of "Germany's most exciting jazz pianist," the Frankfurter Rundschau attested Wollny a "big step forward in a totally new direction", and since then the Hamburger Abendblatt has seen in him the "biggest (jazz) music personality that Germany has produced since Albert Mangelsdorff".
Ever since the beginning of his career, the centre of Michael Wollny's creation has been his trio [em], with Eva Kruse on the bass and drummer Eric Schaefer. The success story of this magical triangle began with call it [em] in 2005, within the framework of the ACT Young German Jazz series. The trio's secret: the unique combination of outstanding technique and individual skills, inexhaustible creativity and instinctive interaction. "Wollny, Kruse and Schaefer save German jazz" said the Süddeutsche Zeitung back then, and die Zeit even spoke of the "world's most exciting piano trio". With the follow-up albums [em] II and [em] 3 the trio advanced to the embodiment of young German jazz. The accolades from various magazines (including the "Choc" from the French Jazzman) were followed by awards like Ronnie Scott's Jazz Award and the BMW Welt Jazz Award. With [em] live at JazzBaltica hitting the shelves in autumn 2010, the unconventional trio irrevocably played itself to the global peak of piano trios with, as the FAZ newspaper put it, its "irrepressibly vital interactive music". England's leading critic Stuart Nicholson called the album "...arguably the finest jazz album of the last quarter of a century". And the German music association Bundesverband Musikindustrie honoured the masterpiece with the ECHO Jazz for the best national ensemble performance of the year.
Wasted & Wanted came out in early 2012 and was the last trio album by Michael Wollny's [em] to date. Just how unrivalled this dream team currently is in the German jazz scene is proven by its winning the ECHO Jazz award for the best national ensemble performance of the year again. Powerful, modern, emotional, intelligent, masterly, full of energy and open in every direction – Wasted & Wanted is a conclusive answer to the question of the future of German jazz.
Wunderkammer XXL with the hr-Bigband: To this day, Wunderkammer has never let go of its hold on Michael Wollny. On 27 October 2012, the Deutsches Jazzfestival Frankfurt gave him the opportunity to live out a dream on a giant scale together with the hr-Bigband. Arranger Jörg-Achim Keller took over the big band orchestration. The concert in the hr broadcasting hall was to become a triumphant event: "Wunderkammer XXL" sounded "impressively different in the subtly differentiated orchestra arrangement" and resulted in "a fascinating interplay between gentle keyboard magic and inspired ensembles" (Frankfurter Rundschau). The FAZ wrote of "an irrepressible joy of playing and an intelligent creative power," that the "ingenious sound tinkerer Michael Wollny" fashioned together with the hr-Bigband under Jim McNeely. The concert provoked veritable storms of enthusiasm among the audience: 20-minute standing ovations were something entirely new to the oldest German jazz festival, in existence since 1953.
On 11 December 2012, Michael Wollny took the stage together with Iiro Rantala and Leszek Możdżer in the sold-out Kammermusiksaal concert hall of the Berlin Philharmonic. The three pianists impressively proved that classic and jazz are anything but contradictory. The recording of this acclaimed concert came out at the end of March 2013 as Live at Berlin Philharmonic I. On it, Wollny can be heard solo, in duets with the other two pianists, and in the finale even in a trio with both of them.
The fact that Wollny is now also a popular sideman who knows just how to lend music magical moments and whip audiences into raptures without playing himself into the foreground can be heard on The Moon, The Stars And You by Nils Landgren and Thrill Box by the young French accordion star Vincent Peirani. "Listening to how Landgren's trombone and Michael Wollny's piano […] caress the melodies, you can't help but be spellbound by the charm of this music," wrote der Stern about the first of the two albums. And die Welt called Thrill Box the "tentative quest for contrapuntal beauty and exceptionally lyrical music with which the Frenchman touches the heart and steals your breath away, accompanied by pianist Michael Wollny and bassist Michel Benita."