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Julian & Roman WASSERFUHR – Landed in Brooklyn – ACT

Julian & Roman WASSERFUHR – Landed in Brooklyn – ACT 9829-2, 56:59 (3/17/17) ****½:

Beautiful charts and ensemble work, highlighted by supremely confident and accomplished trumpet playing.

(Julian Wasserfuhr; trumpet & Flugelhorn/ Roman Wasserfuhr; piano, marimba, seaboard/ Donny McCaslin; tenor saxophone/ Tim Lefebvre; bass/ Nate Wood; drums)

It’s nice when siblings can get along, but one doesn’t expect them to play together as splendidly as do brothers Julian and Roman Wasserfuhr on their recent release Landed in Brooklyn. The fraternal rapport between Roman on the piano and his younger brother Julian on trumpet and Flugelhorn impresses throughout. The seven original charts and all arrangements bear both brothers’ names without distinction. I understand that that they got off to a brisk start in their native Germany as teenagers with much applauded releases on ACT label. This recording catches them on their first trip stateside. Apparently, no sooner were they out of customs, then they met up with rhythm section mates Tim LeFebvre and Nate Wood, took in the skyline, and headed towards the studio, heads filled with inspiration.

Donny McCaslin, an outsized musical personality and the favored soloist with the Maria Schneider Orchestra, joins the quartet. His own musical brand, he has achieved that most elusive of distinctions, an instantly recognizable tone. I was curious as to how the youngish German duo would fare up against the demonstrative extroversion of McCaslin.

The first track, Bernie’s Tune, promises good things to come, displaying a well-crafted and lovely theme, supported by gracious lift from the rhythm team. The ensemble interaction merits the highest praise . No one has more fun than the drummer, who benefits from the spacious breathing of the melody instruments, allowing ample room for melodic embellishments on his kit. In fact, Mr. Nate Wood distinguishes himself throughout for his tasteful playing.  The accomplished pianist follows in the linear-lyrical tradition of players like Marcin Wasilewski. There are no wasted notes or frantic left hand harmonic arguments, but clean lines and finished thoughts throughout. Brother Julian astounds, out of the ordinary by any standard of trumpet playing. On the trumpet and even more on the flugelhorn, he has a timbral control equal to the finest players of our time, the standards in my book being, Eric Vloeimans and Avishai Cohen. His legato playing has a unforced velocity matched to a perfect feeling for phrase. As with his brother’s playing, restraint and understatement prevail rather than virtuosic display. His tone represents a hard won mastery of a difficult instrument.

The second track, Tutto, delivers a fine composition with the most pop-music feel of the bunch. Danny McCaslin steps in to add some boisterous energy on a long solo that has him testing both top and bottom of his instrument. Julian plays sweet to Danny’s sour, and on the piano shows the rare virtue of listening to and commenting on everything around him. The real heart of the record comes in the middle four tracks, which consist of beautiful charts bringing out the optimism and joy of the players, their new-found surprise at finding a common language upon arrival in the New World. Durch der Monsun, is a rearrangement of a rock ballad by Tokyo Hotel. McCaslin’s solo blows up a  furious storm, while Julian’s is, by comparison, just turbulent waters. The legato line swirls and breaks over bars but remains serene.

S.N.C.F. refers to the Societe Nationale des Chemins de Francais and begins as a dark groove with a simple hook and tricky bridge. McCaslin fans will be taken with his obsessive and idea-driven solo. For me, the trumpet’s understatement is more impressive. The highlight of the record might be the sudden shift by the bassist into double-time, which pushes the trumpet solo and final unison into a final heady scramble. There follows an arrangement of Sting’s pop ballad, Seven Days, that suits the melodic instincts of the brothers to perfection. Both give good account. There is a simulation of an electric guitar, which may have been played on the mysterious “seaboard,” credited to the pianist. Fittingly, younger brother has the final word. The final track, First Rays of Dawn, takes us back to the feel of the first: a warm theme and the pianist’s finest solo of all, abetted by the happy drums and uncomplicated swing. Roman adds a layer of marimba and plays beautifully to the end, allowing the bass and drums to shine through his light harmonic textures.

This recording delivers on a high level. The writing and arranging are first class; the soloing invites comparisons with the finest practitioners in the trumpet and saxophone category. But in the end, I think the charm of the moment carries the day, what the brothers (who even write their liner notes together) state as their “New York State of mind,” a rapturous appreciation at finding themselves in place of challenging grandeur among like-minded friends.

TrackList: Bernie’s Tune; Tutto; Tinderly; Durch der Monsun; Carlo; S.N.C.F. Ella; Seven Days’ First Rays of Dawn

—Fritz Balwit

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