Label Report: Stefan Winter’s Winter & Winter

Mike Silverton

[November 1998. Originally appeared in La Folia 1:4.]

Were it not for Allegro Imports’ alert publicist, I’d not have known of Winter & Winter, and what a pity that would be. Never mind the discs: it’s impossible to contemplate their packaging and fail to recognize a labor of love. It’s entirely of ecologically-correct paper identified as CD SmartPack, which I’ve not seen elsewhere in the US: board covers and spine, the dimensions those of the conventional “jewel box,” enclose on the left an equally stiff diagonal sleeve in which the CD locks securely, and on the right either an attached booklet or fold-out consisting of minimal, often cryptographic titles and credits for the most part executed as remarkably original graphics. I should have begun by mentioning that these distinctive visuals begin at the covers, all of which are vertically ridged after the old fashion of “laid” paper. At once handsome and striking.

W&W 910 010-2, entitled Monk to Bach, is in fact a sampler of Producer / Executive Producer Stefan Winter’s wide-ranging musical interests. Negatives first. I see little need for the Schubert disc. The Op.100 (D.929) Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello has been recorded around a million times, on period and modern instruments, nor is the single-movement D.28 Trio without its canned representation. This is not what an enterprising little label ought to be doing, and, as it’s so far a loner, I expect Stefan Winter agrees. By way of strong contrast, the sampler’s two Mahler-jazz paraphrases by Uri Caine and Urlicht (recorded in Brooklyn, my home town) make me want to hear 901 004-2, which I’ve not as yet succeeded in doing. Vocalist Arto Lindsay’s scat-like take on Kindertotenleider’s “Oft denk’ ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen!” (“Often I think that they are only gone outside!”) plays as gem.

To cover everything in exhaustive detail would prove an unrewarding task for both of us. (As a kind of metaphysical given, the writer address one, highly idealized reader: thus, “both of us,” with “highly idealized” understood as a reflection of oneself. Especially so if he entertains solipsistic tendencies. And what sweet-spot stuckee does not?) On, then, to those releases that strike us as extraordinary. For the whole of W&W’s catalog, see www.allegro-music.com.

In addition to a large number of classical collaborations, the Netherlander Cellist Ernst Reijseger appears with German pianist George Graewe and American percussionist Gerry Hemingway on Graewe’s Random Acoustics label, a disc I hope to cover in this issue, as but one example, and a honey it is, of a large CDiscography large, that is, considering the hugely unpopular direction this sort of music takes. For this W&W release [910 012-2], entitled Colla Parte, Reijseger performs solo in an acoustic dream-space, the Villa Medici-Giulini, Briosco, Italy. The technical note is at pains to make clear the absence of processing, with reason. In the title work and curtain-raiser, Colla Parte, the cellist at one extended moment fades into the backfield. Is he walking away while bowing these extraordinarily busy passages? It certainly sounds so. (The title, a standard musical instruction, translates as “Yield to and follow discreetly the solo part or voice.”) The disc is a showcase in the best and noblest sense of the term. Reijseger is endlessly inventive, ranging as he does from faux-Baroque to elegant allusions to country and blues. In “Gwidza,” with its folksy-ballad coloration, he accompanies himself vocally, applying en route virtuosic cello variations to his lovely tune. “Ritornello” progresses as a jazz-flavored pizzicato. “Garbato con Sordina” (“Graceful with Mute”) displays its peacock feathers of ravishing harmonic overtones in an antique setting, and so on in rewarding invention and some of the best cello sound IÍve heard on recording. Kudos especially engineer Adrian von Ripka.

The other solo-instrument recital, guitarist Marc Ducret’s (detail), W&W 910 003-2, boasts a similarly superb recording in, again, the Villa Medici-Giulini. (If Stefan Winter had accomplished nothing else, the discovery of this remarkable venue would secure his place in the audiophile’s pantheon. I’m assuming, of course, a uniqueness that may not exist. If the place has been used for recording by others, I’m ignorant of it.)

There’s been a glut of late of top-drawer guitarists in the Editorial Aerie. (Everybody should have these problems!) I’ve set aside for Signor Scardanelli’s attention (see Scardanelli’s Motley in this issue) a Bridge release, Newdance, featuring David Starobin and a Music & Arts CD of Todd Seelye, entitled ever so niftily Sheer Pluck. Seelye’s a marvel, as is the better-established Starobin, and in this we’ve quite the perfect troika. DucretÍs (detail), introspective, improvisational and virtuosic in character, reveals as masterful an instrumentalist as it’s been my pleasure to hear. No idea, however spontaneous-sounding, lies beyond his dexterous command.

And the tone is unremittingly highbrow. It therefore blows the mind that this selfsame guitarist participates as one of a trio — Tim Berne, baritone and alto saxophones; Marc Ducret, electric guitars (mark you, electric); Tom Rainey, drums in a disc that draws its sustenance from (as a newcomer to these precincts hears it) hard bop, free-jazz improvisation, with soup?on of grunge-guitar rock as seasoning rather than direction. The fellow has range, no question about it. Big Satan [W&W 910 005-2], “digitallyrecordedliveat instants chavires, montreuil, Paris, france,” titillates by way of creative interplay as it sets oneÍs teeth on edge. One ingests these once again marvelously recorded, ever-inventive cuts in gulps. Berne’s CDiscography is substantial, a good deal of it on Stefan Winter’s NLA label, JMT, which I understand from a jazz musician-neighbor are likewise, artwise, good-looking objects. Big Satan is excellent stuff, but palliative, not.

Charms of the Night Sky[W&W 910 015-2] features Dave Douglas, trumpet, Guy Klucevsek, accordion, and Greg Cohen, acoustic bass. The music, all by Douglas, tosses up an odd mix of allusions and styles, and, as you might imagine from the trio’s composition, the feeling the disc conveys is, speaking of charms, one of charmed eccentricity, in that one never quite knows where he is: sipping an aperitif in the shadow of San Marco, or somewhere louche along the docks of Marseilles or Buenos Aires, or in a Parisian bistro, or detecting hints of approaching klezmer eruptions….You get the picture, and a handsomely recorded and played one it is. A mostly moody, seductive must for Douglas’s fans and a good bet for all.

Lust Corner [W&W 901 019-2] features the electric guitars Noel Akchote, Marc Ribot, and Eugene Chadbourne’s electric guitar, plus banjo and vocal for the program’s concluding Dirt, a clever turn on what we once called social protest music, e.g., “We’re so quick to hurt each other over dirt.” Otherwise, purely instrumental duos consisting, in six of 12 tracks, of Akchote and Ribot, and for the others, AkchotZÿ and Chadbourne. Two of Akchote’s own pieces, Chadology and Extensions, romp about in hard-driving grunge. For balance, there’s four by Ornette Coleman and John Green’s Body and Soul. “By” in jazz is of course to be taken as loosely as coherence permits. The improvisations over Body and Soul are for but one example of several innovative treats. Akchote produced.

Flight of the Blue Jay [W&W 910 009-2], with Paul Motian and the Electric Bebop Band, has “bebop” telling the story stylewise though far from completely, with boppish aspects straining toward cool. It’s the ensemble that most impresses: Motian, a premier percussionist with a large CDiscography; Steve Swallow, bass; Kurt Rosenwinkel and Brad Schoepach, electric guitars; and Chris Potter and Chris Cheek, tenor saxophones. We learn from the note that this good-sounding 1996 recording is analog. Given the result, it would be foolish to take the engineer, Joe Ferla, to task for retroism, though, to be honest, I cannot see an allegiance’s need. This next, recorded in 1990/91 in digital, is as intimately lifelike a disc as I’ve heard:

Tethered Moon [W&W 910 016-2], with Masabumi Kikuchi, piano; Gary Peacock, bass; and Paul Motian, drums, appeared first on Paddle Wheel, about which I can tell you nothing. Nor do the notes, as a shortfall in candor in an otherwise flawless (re)release. Kikuchi, who’s a celebrity in her native Japan, sits at the apex of a heart-touching trio. My reference describes Tethered Moon as “acclaimed,” and little wonder. The title work, a masterpiece of romantic melancholy, runs just over 19 minutes, and you hate for it to end. We slip, then, effortlessly into Monk’s Misterioso and out in a totality that remains after many plays among my favorite jazz dozen.

The Paul Motian Trio / The Sound of Love [W&W 910 008-2] has as Motian’s equals (sidemen in the sense of support they surely are not) Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone, and Bill Frisell, electric guitar, “Live at the Village Vanguard,” with up-close and intimate applause to prove it. One almost smells the cigarets (unless, as in most public places in Manhattan, smoking’s verboten). Odd to remark, Joe Ferla recorded this 1996 event in digital and, like his abovenoted analog sessions, it plays as a sonic jewel, as an especially felicitous outcome of a live and therefore potentially dodgy situation. Frisell has long been one of my favorite guitarists. In terms of a trio of hugely gifted individuals, this programÍs coherence plays as a marvel of sympathetic purpose.

Excepting Uri Caine and Urlicht, a review copy of which I did not receive in time for this report, the only disc I disqualify myself from commenting on is tenor saxophonist Gary Thomas’s Found on Sordid Streets [W&W 901 002-2]. I view the disc’s hip-hop / rap aspects in similar wise to a devout Christian’s opinion of the anti-Christ.

Never mind as boons for discophiles, small (and not so small) one-man labels make for fascinating contrasts. My longest exposure to the genre comes by way of Werner Uehlinger’s Hat Hut Records (Therwil, Switzerland). I acquainted myself far more recently with pianist George Graewe’s Random Acoustics label (Cologne, Germany), and at about the same time with Stefan Winter’s Winter & Winter ( Munich, Germany). To belabor the obvious, each label reflects its helmsman’s musical passions. In the very broadest sense, both hatART (as Hat Hut calls its releases) and Random Acoustics hew to a line through more-or-less jazz in closer parallel to what in art music we used to call the avant-garde. (Of the troubles besetting postmodern man, the need for variations on the oft-repeated “used to be.”)

I’ve already mentioned the good news for the audiophile crowd with particular regard to W&W. You cannot say this kind of thing too often: W&W, hatART, and Random Acoustics share a concern for good recorded sound. Indeed, I used to think that few labels aspired to hatART’s consistency and am pleased to report that I was wrong.