Patrick Zimmerli Ensemble
“Zimmerli has unveiled an ornate and shining vista of new sounds…The Ensemble compositions are all twelve tone, but they are also tonal — Zimmerli’s mastery of counterpoint enables him to combine serial practice with a love of tonal harmony, yielding tightly organized but aurally exotic material that can nonetheless be represented by traditional chord symbols…Zimmerli is a masterful tenor saxophonist and an ideal artist who unites the searching drive of modern music with the groove, the sound, and the joy of jazz.”
Patrick Zimmerli is an original and compelling musical personality. The music of this New York based composer-performer melds seemingly opposed concepts: jazz/contemporary classical, atonal/tonal, composed/improvised. In 1992 he formed an Ensemble devoted to exploring the many challenges of a music that would incorporate extended harmonic, rhythmic and melodic vocabulary into an improvised context. On his debut recording as leader, the Ensemble burns brightly even while negotiating intervallic and polyrhythmic complexities seldom encountered in jazz. For all its involutions, Zimmerli’s approach provides opportunities for the musicians to stretch out — imagine Carter or Babbitt playing grooves? The varied program of originals also includes two standards, Victor Feldman’s “Seven Steps to Heaven” and Richard Rodgers’ “Where or When”, that demonstrate the band’s heightened sensitivity to the jazz tradition. Immediately arresting and often downright beautiful, this music digs deep.
Zimmerli studied composition and contemporary classical performance at Columbia University, and has received many awards, including Down Beat’s best high school jazz instrumentalist (twice) and best instrumentalist at the Berklee Jazz Festival (twice). He has composed more than forty works for various ensembles, including chamber and orchestral music with saxophone, multimedia performances and collaborations, and tunes for his quartet (Kevin Hays, Larry Grenadier, and Tom Rainey), one of which won him the first Thelonious Monk Institute Jazz Composer’s competition in 1993. As artistic director of the Monk Institute’s Jazz Ambassadors, he toured Africa in the spring of 1995 and produced their debut CD. He can also be heard on record in groups led by drummer Jeff Williams and pianist Hiromi Saito.
Ben Monder leads his own trio (Songlines), and plays and records as a member of the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra. He has recorded with Marc Johnson and Dave Binney, and performed with Michael Formanek, Roland Vasquez, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, Paul Motian, and Jack McDuff, among many others.
Stomu Takeishi has also played in diverse contexts, including fusion (with members of Steps Ahead), straightahead (in Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band), and avant-garde (with Dave Tronzo).
Satoshi Takeishi, Stomu’s brother, likewise grew up in Japan. After studies at Berklee he spent time in Columbia, and since returning to the U.S. has played drums and percussion with Eliane Elias, Ray Barretto and other cross-culturally minded musicians.
Editors’ Picks for 1995, Jazziz
Best of 1996, Coda
**** “A young tenorman looking in a different direction, expanding on modernist concepts…the quartet devises well-crafted tunes of ambiguous harmony and surprising details.” — Art Lange, Pulse!
“Tenor saxophones usually play shapely melodies that move in little steps. Zimmerli likes jagged, wide intervals instead. Guitarist Ben Monder mostly avoids the usual slinky jazz chords. Electric bassist Stomu Takeishi doesn’t walk four beats to the bar like a typical jazz bass player, and his brother, drummer Satoshi Takeishi, doesn’t play light, swinging patterns on open cymbals; he specializes in the opposite: tight, clipped sounds that allow for fast changes of direction. Yet for all that they still deal with fixed forms and chord progressions, like good jazz traditionalists. It doesn’t always swing exactly, but the disjointed parts come together to make their own kind of momentum. Zimmerli borrows one good idea from older jazz musicians: he plays a couple of familiar tunes to help listeners get a fix on what he’s up to. One of them is the old Miles Davis vehicle, ‘Seven Steps to Heaven’. It highlights one thing the quartet is interested in: tempos that keep changing from one phrase to another. Most jazz rhythm sections allow for minute variations in the basic pulse — it’s part of the rhythmic quality we call swing. Zimmerli as usual takes an element of jazz language and greatly exaggerates it. The other standard…is ‘Where or When’ by Rogers and Hart. Conventional wisdom says ballads are the real test of a jazz musician, and for once conventional wisdom is right. If a player has soul this is where it’ll come out, and this is where Zimmerli proves he really is interested in old-fashioned jazz values.” — Kevin Whitehead, Fresh Air (NPR)
**** “What makes this debut recording so interesting is the way in which composer and tenor saxophonist Patrick Zimmerli incorporates an entirely unique compositional aesthetic…Zimmerli melds advanced contemporary classical technique with offbeat jazz rhythms, leading to a fascinating blend. For all its complexity, there is something deliciously accessible about the music, although melodies are rare, harmonies are layered, and solos are angular. Monder proves himself a wonderfully innovative soloist, void of cliché. The two standards are marvelous re-creations, pointing to entirely new ways of interpreting traditional patterns.” — Steve Loewy, Allmusic.com
“The deliberate pacing and the respectful, uniquely egalitarian mix contribute to a bookish aura, like a late-night conversation among generally polite philosophy students. Zimmerli has a controlled and inquisitive sound on tenor. In his bandmates he’s found perfectly fitting players who shape his vision as if it were their own. The sparse playing of the Takeishi brothers is one of the keys that keeps this natural-sounding music breathing as it unfolds. Definitely recommended.” — Stuart Kremsky, IAJRC Journal