Musical storytelling which mixes compositional originality with instrumental brilliance.
Stepping outside one's comfort zone is a time-honored tradition in jazz. Pianist Florian Hoefner - born and raised in Germany and who finished his jazz education in Manhattan - took that journey a bit further than most. In 2014, he relocated from NYC to the isolated city of St. John's in Canada's farthest easterly province, Newfoundland. Not a hotbed of jazz, but the rugged and scenic area offered a place where Hoefner could and did focus his creativity. The result is Hoefner's new quartet album, Luminosity, his third outing as a leader and one which exhibits growth, development and thoughtful complexity.
The eight tunes (all Hoefner originals) total 54 minutes and were specifically composed for Hoefner's international group, which also comprises tenor and soprano saxophonist Seamus Blake (who grew up on the west coast of Canada; runs his own quintet; and has been a regular with the Mingus Big Band); bassist Sam Anning (an Australian who resides in NYC and has worked with Joe Lovano, Gilad Hekselman, Greg Osby and Charlie Haden); and Austrian drummer Peter Kronreif (an in-demand session player who also lives in NYC and has performed in jazz, hip-hop and RnB settings).
Hoefner custom-made his compositions for the tonal temperaments of his bandmates (Hoefner, Anning and Kronreif have performed more than 100 shows since 2011; Blake more recently joined the other three musicians). As Hoefner states in the CD liner notes, "the pieces are longer, with more complex forms and rhythms, and very detailed parts for each player." The tracks range in length from 6 minutes to barely under nine minutes, and each number uses various processes. For example, on the title track Hoefner employs a time feel on a subdivision of five beats which doesn't descend into a standard 5/4 feel. While that might seem like elaborate elements overtaking substance, Hoefner also has a gift for memorable melodies which can captivate and snag, which occurs on the title track via Blake's sweet soprano sax, Hoefner's glittering chords, and some sublime rhythms. The opener, "The Narrows," also has a distinctive structure. Hoefner deliberately did not allow more than an octave to separate the lowest and highest notes of the ensemble: hence, the title. However, this six-minute cut does not sound unwavering or fixed in place. Rather, there is a sense of movement and even middle-ground intensity, especially when Blake soars on tenor sax. Other pieces which blend Hoefner's control of composition and his band's interplay include the mid-tempo "In Circles," which has a 24-beat cycle subdivision and a circular harmonic expansion; and the catchy "The Bottom Line," where Blake's lower-register tenor sax shares a unison line with Anning's bass.
Newfoundland's native music is influenced by Irish and English folk music, and fortunately Hoefner's stay in that Canadian region instigated a track which combines a Newfoundland-inspired jig within a jazz template, and is punningly titled "Newfound Jig." During this nearly seven-minute sojourn, Hoefner utilizes a non-generic 12/8 groove drawn from traditional Irish music. Typical of Hoefner, though, this quick-paced and upbeat track is a group workout, including incendiary tenor sax, and fast-moving rhythms from bass, piano and drums. When Hoefner takes a solo about halfway through, he showcases his virtuosity. The CD's longest piece also is impacted by landscape and locality, the solemn, eight-minute "North Country." This tune displays one of Hoefner's identifiable traits, the use of space. Hoefner was initially a trumpeter and declares, "The trumpet probably affects the way I think about melodies. Playing piano, I still breathe between phrases." While that compositional essence permeates most of the material, it is very evident in the gradual, steady movement which suffuses "North Country." It's also here where Hoefner's admiration for fellow pianist Brad Mehldau can be heard, not so much in how Hoefner plays but in the track's artistic disposition. There are a lot of pianists in jazz. Put Hoefner on the list of those whom perceptive listeners should take time to hear. Luminosity reveals that geographical place and a certain mindset can help foster venturesome music which can conjoin a high degree of musicianship alongside a mastery of musical storytelling.Stepping outside one's comfort zone is a time-honored tradition in jazz.