David Helbock Trio – Aural Colors [TrackList follows] – Traumton, 4615, 50:23 [1/30/15] ***:
(David Helbock – piano; Raphael Preuschl – bass ukulele; Herbert Pirker – drums)
Pianist David Helbock’s music isn’t for everyone. The Austrian keyboardist understands classical and jazz; knows the difference between mainstream jazz and improvised music which slides outside of that genre; and seems unwilling to fit into any pigeonhole. That means his latest outing, the 50-minute Aural Colors, is an amalgam of tones, hues and styles. Sometimes the elements coalesce in the same piece and sometimes they glide over several tunes, which skew the proceedings into a dynamic but disconcerting stance.
Helbock’s trio is also slightly separate from the norm. He uses acoustic piano, but occasionally utilizes the inside strings for percussive effects, which is conspicuous; and bassist Raphael Preuschl employs an amplified bass ukulele instead of a typical bass. Both are abetted by drummer Herbert Pirker. Together, the three frequently craft a classical/jazz aspect, which leans into both genres but doesn’t stay in one style for long. The standout is a three-part group of individual tracks, labeled “Schönberg Meets Kandinsky Suite,” based on Arnold Schönberg’s “Six Little Piano Pieces.” Helbock shapes three portions of Schönberg’s “Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, op. 19” (numbers IV, III and II only, in that order) into an intriguing, 12-minute excursion which moves from a straightforward classical intro to a swinging jazz cadence. Number IV has the strongest jazz inclination; Number III has a moody, European mannerism which applies open spaces and a slow tempo; and Number II commences with sedate, classical solo piano, then a military-like march from the drums, and then transforms into a melodic jazz selection.
Helbock seems drawn to shades, tints and painterly works. The aforementioned suite exudes the disposition of abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky in both the title and in the way the suite has a bright and reflective nature. The first cut, “Yellow Meets Red,” also has an artistic, abstract quality. The blend of neo-classical and jazz provides a landscaped lucidity. The piano has a progressing characteristic, central to the shifting arrangement, and is often pointillistic. Preuschl supplies a surging bass which shows fluency with fusion bassists such as Jeff Berlin or John Patitucci. Near the CD’s conclusion, Helbock goes melancholy on the somber “Healing Colors,” which has a dimly-lit demeanor, with tinges of dark blue, grey and solemn reds.
Theology is another motif. The sobering “Intro to the Myths” has a European jazz mode. The shortened creation acts an overture to the lengthier, dramatic “Horus and Jesus,” which combines the spiritual symbols of two religions, Horus (the oldest and most significant ancient Egyptian deity) and Jesus (the founder of Christianity). While the tune’s title could imply conflict between opposing beliefs, “Horus and Jesus” is a romantic jazz ballad, and the record’s finest melodic composition. The best jazz piece is the wittily named “AM-Anonymous Monkaholics,” a tribute to Thelonious Monk. This sparkling work has a stiff dose of jazz, muscularly swings, and proves Helbock has a sense of impish humor. Helbock’s quartet version, which includes tuba, sax, drums and piano, can be seen online. Another slice of amusement is “Virus Ukulelen Song,” which is a highlight for Preuschl, who displays what his bass ukulele can do with a brisk, modern jazz rhythm and alternating time signatures. The trio finishes with a Latin jazz cut, “Para Hermeto,” previously recorded for Helbock’s release Think of Two, which was credited to Random Control/David Helbock. “Para Hermeto” is full of fun morsels, including a tiny, squeaky toy which makes an appearance about halfway through. It’s an enjoyable way to end the CD. Aural Colors has contrasting moods, and it may take patience and an open mind to traverse them, particularly since this album is a bit unpredictable. One constituent which stays focused throughout is Martin Offik’s engineering and mixing. He supports each instrument simultaneously, keeping things organic, warm and receptive to the changing timbres. You can discover more about Helbock’s music via a three-minute, live-in-the-studio promo video or view another promo video, which comprises short, live excerpts featuring the trio on stage. [The Amazon link is for the MP3 only; they don’t handle the CD.]
TrackList: Yellow Meets Red; Schönberg Meets Kandinsky Suite: Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, op. 19, Nr. IV, Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, op. 19, Nr. III, Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, op. 19, Nr. II; Öpfili, bist so kugelrund; Intro to the Myths; Horus and Jesus; AM-Anonymous Monkaholics; Virus Ukulelen Song; Healing Colors; Para Hermeto.