Late last month, the Julia Hulsmann Quartet released its latest album, The Next Door through ECM Records. The quartet’s second record, it was released August 26, roughly three years after the quartet released its debut album, Not Far From Here. The record offers plenty to appreciate in terms of its musical side. For all that the record’s musical content does to make it appealing, the lack of any background on the songs in the booklet detracts from the enjoyment. This will be discussed a little later. The record’s production rounds out its most important elements and will also be discussed later. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the record’s presentation. All things considered they make The Next Door a mostly enjoyable addition to this year’s field of new jazz albums.
The Next Door, the recently released sophomore album from the Julia Hulsmann Quartet, is an enjoyable presentation that jazz fans will find is worth hearing at least once. That is due in large part to its featured musical content. The arrangements that make up the album’s hour-long run time are all subdued in their sound and stylistic approach. From one song to the next, each member of the group gets their own moment in the spotlight. Hulsmann leads the way in the album’s opener, ‘Empty Hands’ while Uli Kempendorff accompanies her expertly on the tenor saxophone. Drummer Heinrich Kobberling’s even more subtle use of the brushes on his snare makes for its own welcome touch. Kempendorff takes the lead in the record’s next track, ‘Made of Wood,’ after Hulsmann establishes the mood through the song’s opening bars. His performance and that of Hulsmann creates a welcome harmony that will fully engage listeners without even trying. Marc Muelbauer takes the lead on the double bass later in the record in ‘Wasp at the Window,’ showing yet again that each member of the quartet does indeed get that moment in the spotlight. Muelbauer’s subtle picking really does make one think of that ominous feeling one gets when one sees a wasp knocking at a window, trying to get inside a building. That sense of dread is unmistakable, and he does well echoing that sense. The energy in Kempendorff’s performance on the saxophone even conjures thoughts of the erratic flying that wasps do in such situations. The arrangement stands out so well from the album’s other songs just as much as they do from one another. Collectively, the songs noted here and the rest of the album’s entries not only show that the record’s songs give each member of the quartet but also the diversity in the arrangements and enjoyment.
As much as the arrangements featured in this record do to make the album interesting, the songs do have certain stories behind them. The pictures painted here are not necessarily those meant by Hulsmann and company. Of course, the fact that there is no information about the songs in the album’s booklet prevents audiences from knowing the full background on the story. Information was provided to the media about some of the songs. For instance, Hulsmann is cited in the press release announcing the album’s release, ‘Empty Hands’ is about the positive feeling that one gets when one is not having to juggle multiple things at once in life. ‘Valdemossa,’ which closes the album, is said to be influenced in part by classical composer Frederic Chopin’s ‘Prelude No. 4 in E Minor’ in its sound and style. That little tidbit is quite interesting. That is because in understanding this, audiences can actually hear a little bit of that song here, just made less melancholy in the group’s more positive approach. Simply put, there is plenty of background information offered to the media about the songs in terms of their background, but there is none for the general public in the album’s booklet. To that end, it does detract from the overall enjoyment and engagement for audiences. Sadly, this seems to be the case with so much instrumental jazz. It is not enough to make the album a failure, but it certainly would have been nice to have had as part of the album’s presentation.
Knowing that the lack of any background on the songs in the album’s booklet is not enough to doom the album, there is one more positive to note. That positive is the album’s production. Knowing that the album presents so much quiet, controlled music, the utmost attention had to be paid to each composition to make sure each musician’s performance complimented the others. That work paid off in each song. Whether it be the subtle touches on the drums or the stronger performances on the saxophone or even the careful addition of the bass line, each song’s production expertly balances each musician’s performance. The result is that it creates a positive general effect for the album. When that positive general effect is considered along with the album’s musical content, that pairing makes for all the more reason to hear The Next Door.
The Next Door, the new album from the Julia Hulsmann Quartet, is an interesting new offering from the group that is worth hearing at least once. The record’s appeal comes primarily through its musical content. The arrangements featured in the record are diverse in their sounds and styles while also maintaining a certain control from one to the next. As much as the album’s musical content does to make it engaging and entertaining, the lack of any background on the songs in the album’s booklet detracts from that appeal to a point. It is not enough to make the album a failure. Knowing that, the album’s production works with the album’s musical content to make for a positive overall general effect. With that in mind, the production and songs together make the album worth hearing at least once.
The Next Door is available now through ECM Records. More information on this and other titles from ECM Records is available at:
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