This might just be one of the great jazz treatments of the songs of Kurt Weill. Pianist Julia Hülsmann and vocalist Theo Bleckmann impart a pensive, ominous calm to nine songs by their compatriot (from famous ones such as Mack the Knife and Speak Low to overlooked gems including Little Tin God), and Hülsmann’s penetrating settings for three Walt Whitman poems complete the tracklist. Hülsmann’s ECM albums were intelligent distillations of familiar jazz-piano styles, but she opens up more on this enticing set, while staying alert to coaxings from the bass and drums, and to the eloquence of Bleckmann and trumpeter/flugelhornist Tom Arthurs – the latter often contributing as if he were a second singer. Mack the Knife is delivered ethereally and slowly by Bleckmann; September Song unfolds with a kind of conspiratorial passivity; This Is New is lit by Arthurs’ bright flugelhorn figures; and the Whitman poems join chanting, one-note themes, boiling group-improv finales and a ghostly, lonely melody shared by Bleckmann and Arthurs on the title track. Not a sound is out of place on this beautifully crafted project, but it sounds open and spontaneous just the same.
Julia Hülsmann Quartet/Theo Bleckmann: A Clear Midnight CD review – great jazz treatments of Kurt Weill songs
John Fordham is the Guardian's main jazz critic. He has written several books on the subject, reported on it for publications including Time Out, Sounds, Wire and Word, and contributed to documentaries for radio and TV. He is a former editor of Time Out, City Limits and Jazz UK, and regularly contributes to BBC Radio 3's Jazz on 3