Saturday nights for jazz at Kings Place are quite subdued usually, and last night’s small but appreciative audience for the Hans Koller Ensemble was no exception, although the concertgoers showed their enthusiasm in a typically polite way. Hall two, or “The Base” as it’s known, I suppose to sound a bit more down-with-da-kids although looking around it was probably a case of down-with-da-grandkids, has great sightlines and a certain unclaustrophobic intimacy. But the somewhat mature audience certainly had the wisdom to turn up to hear the highly rated Hans Koller Ensemble, which a wider audience will catch when it’s broadcast on Radio 3’s Monday night show Jazz on 3 later this month. British-based German born composer, arranger, valve trombonist and pianist Koller, only in his forties, so a relative babe-in-arms compared to his great hero Mike Gibbs who he’s been working with recently in the studio, was best I thought in the first half as the Gil Evans cool school material suited the band better than the more tricksy vocal settings of poetry in German by Friedrich Hölderlin in the second. Singer Christine Tobin did her best but the overly intricate arrangements were a barrier to spontaneity and the band looked as if they were facing an uphill task. The sound mix also was a bit lopsided in the hall and did the vocals no favours but on radio it will come off differently. Koller spoke too much to the audience (he himself sensed this as he smilingly, but a bit geekily, nattered away to the audience), but of the soloists US alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher was expressive and interesting to listen to with hints of Lee Konitz here and there in his sound and his own conversational tone. Phil Robson’s sure footed harmonic grasp was always important, and it was the first opportunity to hear him in tandem with erstwhile Tomasz Stańko guitarist Jako Bro, from Denmark, whose contribution took a while to come but whose janglingly abstract style meshed well with Robson. Best moment of the evening? Definitely the band’s reading of ‘Temporarily’ an extra track that appeared on the reissue of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 Verve album Thesis, renamed 1961 when ECM reissued it. Percy Pursglove had some excellent flugelhorn runs in the second half, and gave firm direction to count in the other reeds and horns when tricky unisons where needed in the later part of the concert. Jeff Williams showed discretion and taste on drums throughout, very reminiscent of the late Paul Motian’s approach, and Koller made subtle use of Jim Rattigan on French horn in the ensemble passages, with his velvety tone peeking out in just the right spots. It might well be a case of back to the drawing board for the Hölderlin material, though: a tweak here and there might make it less doleful and heighten that latent quality with suitable contrasts.
Hans Koller, above
25/05/18 last updated