Jazz album review: “The Painter” by Tobias Meinhart – A very pretty picture

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By Allen Michie

It’s modern, state-of-the-art jazz with a promising soloist, well-chosen guests and a dreamy rhythm section.

Tobias Meinhart, “The Painter” (Sunnyside)

Born in Bavaria and formed in Switzerland, saxophonist Tobias Meinhart’s Fourscore jazz quartet toured across the continent, and the group began racking up awards in European competitions. But you know how this story unfolds: Every jazz musician has to come to New York to see if he’s really world class. Meinhart may be a less familiar name in the United States than it would become in Europe, but he’s proven successful, even though he’s a small fish in a bigger pond. His group meets regularly at Blue Note and Birdland clubs in New York. His ninth album as a leader, The painter, is a fully mature statement from a confident soloist and composer in front of an excellent rhythm section and a judicious choice of star guests.

The painter, like so many other albums of all genres developed in 2020, began as a COVID lockdown project. Meinhart and his friend, the painter Igor Sokol, had time for long conversations about the colors of music and the lyricism of art. Thus, the compositions of the album began to take shape. While the colorful, straightforward, airy, Matisse-type paintings (some of them anyway) are intriguing to see while listening The painter, I don’t find them necessary or all of this revealing about the nature of music. I hear more muted browns, indigo blues, creams and burgundy reds in Meinhardt’s complex tone and compositions.

Meinhart has a dry sound, a kind of fusion between the sound of Joe Lovano, the vibrato of Michael Brecker and the lines of Chris Potter. It is a resolutely contemporary approach, very evocative of contemporary jazz. Meinhart plays no discernible clichés and few standard scale models. He cites Wayne Shorter as an influence (but then again, every other living tenor saxophonist does), but I don’t mean to trust Shorter’s vocabulary. The band’s music comes from Miles Davis’ 60s quintet in a general sense, but it’s not limited to that model. I hear Herbie Hancock more in pianist Eden Ladin’s playing than Wayne Shorter in Meinhart’s. (Ladin is a player to watch, by the way. He’s a great accompanist and he’s on the way to defining his own solo voice.)

The album starts off strong with “White Bear”, named after Meinhart’s favorite dumpling house in Flushing, Queens. It won’t make you think of dumplings. It’s a rhythmically complex 9/8 beat track that is an example of how this excellent rhythm section, featuring bassist Matt Penman and drummer Obed Calvaire, works together seamlessly on even the most difficult tracks. Calvaire is a busy yet precise drummer who pushes the rhythms to one side of the envelope, and pianist Ladin compliments with wispy abstractions that push harmonies to the other side of the envelope. Bassist Penman takes on the role of Charlie Haden, providing a rich centering sound and often taking it straight to the middle.

There are plenty of moments of sonic creativity without going all the way into the La-La Land synthesizer or self-justified studio tricks. “The Painter (Intro)” starts off with a great sound – there are (what I think are) guitar overtones with unison reverb with a weirdly strummed and pinched bass. Unless all the harmonics are somehow coming from the bass. It doesn’t really matter because it’s a mysterious, colorful and unusual sound. The rest of “The Painter” is fed with grain via the close breath of the microphone through the Meinhart horn. His solo has multiphonics, split tones and the intriguing sound of overblowing but with a calm volume. There is some of Coltrane’s technique in Meinhart’s play, but little of Coltrane’s characteristic late style.

Ironically, “Bird Song”, my nominee for the best song on the record, is very dark. It starts with an almost heavy metal vibe; not Charles Altura’s guitar, but Meinhart’s breathless bass alto flute. There is a repetitive and somewhat disturbing trumpet riff from guest soloist Ingrid Jensen. The song lights up with the arrival of the main melody, which would be based on the song of the titmouse. But entering the electric piano with some distracting stereo effects later in the track creates tension. The composition may be 5/4, but Calvary’s drums keep it free so it can fly away in different directions, like a distracted bird. There is a simultaneous tenor and trumpet solo, and it’s worth listening a few times to hear these two spirits feed off of each other, not so much to echo lines as to build together. textures and prints.

Tobias Meinhart’s jazz quartet, Fourscore. Photo: Sunnyside

Other tracks are more conventional. “Oak Tree” is a beautiful ballad featuring Jensen’s famous warm bugle and Penman’s well-recorded bass. It is a simple meditative melody, adapted to the Buddhist koan whose name the piece bears. The rhythm section floats behind Jensen’s solo, with rich responsive Ladin chords on the piano, accompanying the whole track beautifully (and indeed, throughout the album). Bruno Martino’s “Estate” is the only standard in the recording, a welcome duet between sax and piano which draws on their compatible tones and lyrical orientations. The final saxophone dub effect, perhaps with a Meinhart playing an EWI, isn’t really necessary, but it’s expressive sound that isn’t out of place for the song.

One of the weaknesses of the dossier is the relative absence of its strengths. It would have been nice to hear more of Altura’s processed electric guitar, which has a tone somewhere between Mike Stern’s and Pat Metheny’s (which is a great place). When he plays lines in unison with Meinhart, it sounds a bit like Metheny and Michael Brecker on MB’s first solo album. Altura works with a super clean joint; sometimes it almost sounds like a synthesizer keyboard. It would have been great to know more about him. The same goes for trumpeter Jensen, Meinhart’s European mentor, who appears on two tracks. We never tire of his original and exhilarating solos.

The only downside is Meinhart’s soft, flat, vibrato-free voice on “Dreamers”. Meinhart has much of the young, rugged beauty of Chet Baker but, sadly, little of Baker’s distinctive vocal character. It’s not as bad as Tony Williams’ voice – Meinhart’s is at least right – but surely these musicians could have found a singer somewhere in New York City who could have done the gig. Meinhart redeems himself by picking up the soprano saxophone, and I would like to hear more on the right horn. It’s a great mix when soprano and guitar come together at the end of “Dreamers” with overlapping solos, one worth exploring in depth on future albums.

It’s modern, state-of-the-art jazz with a promising soloist, well-chosen guests and a dreamy rhythm section. New York is a good fit for Meinhart, and I hope he stays with us for a while.


Allen Michie works in higher education administration in Austin, TX.


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