The Great Harry Hillman – Tilt [TrackList follows] – Cuneiform, Rune 433, 43:07 [5/26/17] ****:

(Nils Fischer – reeds; David Koch – guitar, effects; Samuel Huwyler – bass; Dominik Mahnig – drums)

The Great Harry Hillman: Swiss post-jazz ready for discovery.

There’s something slightly off-kilter about this Lucerne, Switzerland quartet. And that’s the point. This unassuming but forward-veering jazz group inexplicably borrowed its name from American Olympian Harry Hillman, who won three gold medals in the 1904 Summer Olympics. The Great Harry Hillman also plays what some have called post-jazz, which pulls influences from jazz, rock, flowing improvisation and other sources into a modern mélange which, at times, echoes Tortoise, the Neil Cowley Trio, and other likeminded artists. The Great Harry Hillman (or TGHH for short) formed in 2009, and the 43-minute Tilt is the band’s third release and first on the cutting-edge Cuneiform imprint. If you think a foursome who gets its name from an obscure athlete might be a bit different, you’d be correct. Electric guitarist David Koch, bassist Samuel Huwyler, drummer Dominik Mahnig and multi-reeds player Nils Fischer create music which is very much in the contemporary vernacular, combining delicate melodies, snaking rhythmic aspects, and a shared musical vision which can be quiet and unassertive and at other instances rise to self-confident culminations.

TGHH commence with the placid tune “Snoezelen,” which is titled after a controlled multisensory environment (or MSE) therapy for people with autism and other developmental disabilities, dementia or brain injury. There’s a sense of defined but lightly sloped equilibrium, a mollifying but also stimulating atmosphere highlighted by Mahnig’s deviating drumming and washed cymbals, Fischer’s shadowy sax, and Koch’s furtive guitar. “Snoezelen” has a measured progression which deftly counterbalances a reflective but moody structure. On the other hand, the second piece, “Strengen Denkt An” has a jolting attack due to Koch’s governing, hard rock-styled guitar. Koch’s forceful sound is offset by Fischer’s gossamer bass clarinet, which changes the tune’s characteristic to an arrangement which aligns temperamental with tranquil. One of the longer tracks, the seven-minute “354°” has a similar pathway. “354°” begins with a somewhat fragmented melody and a beautiful introduction, and then evolves into muscled musical weight, with Fischer performing blazing sax notes and Mahnig offering a clattering rhythmic foundation, followed by the inevitable ebb where Mahnig switches to clarinet.

Atypical seems to be a watchword for TGHH. For example, there’s the nutty “How to Dice an Onion,” which squeezes experimental rock and jazz together with a touch of Danny Elfman meets Sonic Youth. This is jaunty music which showcases the band’s collective approach and the group’s ability to tinker with expectations and harmonic advancement. “How to Dice an Onion” is nearly dance-ready (albeit not a fox-trot or tango), while maintaining an improvisational curvature. The Great Harry Hillman close with the tangentially abstract “Moustache,” a late-night venture fronted by coiling hand percussion elements, Koch’s distorted and ambient guitar, and Fischer’s clacking sounds created by his sax. “Moustache” has an interactive melody which all four musicians handle in diverse ways while sustaining a cooperative demeanor. If you’re the type of jazz listener who likes exploratory material which goes outside jazz boundaries, but not exaggerated or too overstated, check out The Great Harry Hillman.

Whipping Post
Strengen denkt an
The New Fragrance
Agnes fliegt
Remazing Ace
How to Dice an Onion

—Doug Simpson