Pianist Florian Hoefner's latest release Luminosity, which was released last week, is partly an ode to St. John's, Newfoundland. Although the native of Germany says that he was only "subconsciously" inspired by his new place of residence, the album's dramatic melodies and rolling grooves bring images of the area's stunning landscapes to mind right from the start.
Like many great jazz composers, Hoefner wrote the record's music with his band in mind. Given this approach, it's not surprising that each musician plays with such expression and creativity that you'd think they had written each piece themselves. For example, it's hard to imagine anyone else but saxophonist Seamus Blake playing these melodies, which highlights both his trademark agility and lyricism on the horn.
As most of his compositions feature straight-eighth feels, Hoefner had to round out the rhythm section with musicians who could work creatively in such a setting. Wisely, he chose his long-time collaborators bassist Sam Anning and drummer Peter Kronreif. Even while they're playing complex grooves, the music never feels too busy or overwhelming. The intensity of each piece ebbs and flows, and the group as a whole is quick to respond to the direction the music takes.
Despite the tunes generally following a similar format (melody-solo-melody with some brief interludes), no two pieces on the record are alike. The album creeps in sparsely with The Narrows, which is followed by the more active In Circles. This pattern continues throughout the record, as the most immediately obvious difference between pieces is the large variation in their grooves. Slight tweaks in instrumentation also change things up, as Blake takes off on soprano on the title track.
The pacing of the album follows a gradual arc, with the most complex pieces placed in the middle. One of these is the appropriately named Newfound Jig, which is the only tune to pull direct inspiration from Newfoundland's music. The piece shares a similar triplet-based feel with its source material - a traditional Irish song called Morrison's Jig. Kronreif shines here, getting a lot of mileage out of the general feel of the groove by frequently changing up its nuances.
Elements might be the most involved composition on the record, with several distinct sections and a notably slick interlude into the tenor solo. This piece is a prime example of Hoefner writing specifically for the members of this group, as the melody takes full advantage of Blake's large tenor range. The catchy and danceable Reminiscence also features the saxophonist prominently.
The Bottom Line is the album's first (and only) swinger. Serving as the record's climax, it features the band playing with a lot of attitude and Kronreif delivers an excellent drum solo. North Country caps off the disc, sharing the first track's open vibe but ramping up the intensity before the end.
Overall, Luminosity is an excellent release. World-class playing on all accounts makes Hoefner's already solid compositions sound even stronger, and the large variety between tracks gives the record great replay value. Without a doubt, Canada has gained a great asset to its jazz scene through this pianist's move to our East Coast.