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Dieter Ilg
Parsifal
ACT ***

Eric Schaefer
Who Is Afraid of Richard W.?
ACT ***
With a Wagner connection, both albums, despite one playfully equipped with a question mark, find solutions to a problem that doesn’t really exist. If anyone wants to cover classical material even by a hideously divisive figure such as Wagner, then there really isn’t anything new or necessarily interesting in this. After all since Jacques Loussier’s interpreting of Bach, or classical composers from Milhaud on incorporating jazz into their compositional approach, it’s not a live issue. Bassist Ilg, who knows his Verdi as well as his Wagner, performs his Parsifal with the trio of pianist Rainer Böhm and drummer Patrice Héral with respect and gentleness, and it corresponds to the orthodox modern jazz piano style that’s not dissimilar to the tasteful approach of the Benedikt Jahnel Trio indicated on Equilibrium, although there is some fulfilling Ilg Trio improvising on tracks such as ‘Ich bin ein reiner Tor’, as any “fool” might discover. There’s some familiar Beethoven tucked in as well at the end.

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Ilg offers variations on Wagner in essence but [em] drummer Schaefer’s album is “revisiting”, and despite the loaded terminology has more impact, flavoured by the superb pristine trumpet and flugel tone and interpretative subtlety of Tom Arthurs who you’ll also hear on the upcoming Julia Hülsmann quartet album. It’s not as conventional as Ilg’s, with bits of reggae on his own tune ‘Nietzsche in Disguise’ for instance, and Volker Meitz’s steamy organ intro to ‘Lohengrin’ is an inventive touch that does work especially when Arthurs builds a solo from its marshy base. Bassist John Eckhardt is also clearly a name to watch. If you liked Schaefer’s groove on ‘Das Modell’ on Wasted and Wanted you’ll want to hear what he does on this album from a drumming point of view, but the overall concept of both albums is more of a burden than a plus.

Stephen Graham 

Both albums are released on 11 February. Dieter Ilg, top, and the cover of Who Is Afraid of Richard W.?

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Francesc Marco (on accordion) and Fred Thomas set up as bassist Jiri Slavik looks on at the soundcheck before last night’s Fly Agaric gig at the Vortex in Dalston. Joined by fourth member, reedsman Zac Gvi, later to complete their set-up the F-IRE Collective band went on to perform selections from their new album for the label, In Search of Soma. Opening with ‘Closely Observed Trains’, which takes its name from an influential 1966 Czech film, three of the band curiously donned bright red “mushroom hats”, a link to the fungus-loving outfit’s name. Later tunes included a trenchant juxtaposition of a discredited speech of Nicolas Sarkozy’s with a puckishly Mingusian groove on ‘Travailler plus pour gagner plus’; a brand new song translated as ‘Wicked’ in English, charismatic frontman Gvi explained with a laugh; and the pleasantly tricksy ‘It takes one two, no’, surely a soundcheck special at least in spirit. Marco on piano added some great stride touches towards the end while Gvi channelled his inner Prez. SG

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Lunchtime today sees the beginning of a major solo piano tour by Robert Mitchell, during which his latest album The Glimpse will be released. A solo feature for left hand only its dozen tracks contain some of the most unusual piano music you’ll hear this year. In the notes to the Whirlwind Records release Mitchell talks of the challenge of undertaking the project in the first place. “I don’t believe,” he says, “there has been anywhere near enough recording to address what I think is a strongly valid form of piano music – that made by the left hand alone. And the insisting that improvisation play a part, also takes this to a rare, but intensely interesting place for me.” Initially drawn to the idea by writing for a classical piano event, the title track Mitchell says integrates the “different pathways and possibilities” that the task could take him to. The pianist, who received acclaim for his earlier less unconventional piano solo album Equinox released in 2007 cites classical piano history specifically Zichy, Wittgenstein and Godowsky in terms of left hand-only playing, with jazz connections encompassing the music of Phineas Newborn Jr and Kenny Drew among others. On The Glimpse recorded at the Capstone Theatre in Liverpool last summer Mitchell has composed all the music except for classical composer Frederico Mompou’s ‘Prelude No 6’, which trumpeter Byron Wallen had alerted Mitchell to, and ‘Nocturne for the Left hand Alone’ by American pianist Fred Hersch, a “modern classic”, Mitchell says of it. This new album certainly makes me for one think of solo piano a little differently, as it’s like looking at a familiar building from a different angle and in so doing finding detail hitherto neglected or taken for granted. It’s about an altered reality for sure. Track six ‘The Sage’ in only five minutes and nineteen seconds the composition has a cinematic reach within this small time that is very remarkable. Rhapsodic, the restriction imposed by playing left hand only is not a barrier in the least, although as elsewhere on the album sometimes there is a feeling that it’s a bass player’s record! An innovative album then, don’t assume a thing.
Stephen Graham

The tour begins with a Royal Festival Hall foyer concert at 1pm
See www.robertmitchellmusic.com for further tour dates. 
The Glimpse is released on 18 February. Robert Mitchell, above