For “Not Far From Here”, her seventh recording for ECM, Julia Hülsmann had a new timbre in mind – her long-term work trio with Marc Muellbauer and Heinrich Köbberling was enhanced by the inclusion of saxophonist Uli Kempendorff, who whose strong presence is miraculously and seamlessly integrated into Hülsmann’s great lyric poetry while adding grit and pace to the flow of subtle compositions. His playing has a mixture of nonchalance and urgency, which ideally suits this brilliant trio – he fits easily into this group that has been playing together since 2002, with his sensitivity, open attitude and direct and authentic storytelling.
Julia Hülsmann Quartett
The three musicians have known Kempendorff for many years and have played with him in various con- stellations. His open mind and curiosity forbid any categorization or classification, and Jazzthethic noted in Kempendorff’s playing that “both suppleness and abandon exist in rich measure”. This unacademic, original free spirit, who nevertheless knows how to anchor himself in the band context, “succeeds in the seemingly paradoxical feat of not only expanding the ancestral trio, but also sharpening it again in its core.” (Tonart 12/2019).
As usual with Julia Hülsmann, each member of the formation contributes original compositions. This makes the album, released in the ECM anniversary year 2019 and enthusiastically received by the national and international press (album of the month in the Guardian), a retrospective of the “considerable compositional art of all band members, especially Hülsmann herself“ (Tonart). The repertoire is complemented by a contemporary interpretation of “This Is Not America”, David Bowie’s 1980s hit single (composed by Bowie, Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays) and originally written for John Schlesinger’s spy film ‘The Falcon and the Snowman’, which in the version of the Hülsmann Quartet meanders between maximum deceleration and irrational intensity.
“A masterful recording: aesthetically contoured and brimming with creative freedom, meditatively calm and yet brightly luminous.” (Tonart)
„(…) for understated reinvention of the familiar, cool virtuosity, and the seductive ECM sense of a long gestation preceding and succeeding the recording, German pianist and composer Julia Hülsmann ́s Not Far from Here is a standout. Hülsmann, who has been releasing subtle ECM gems with trio partners Marc Muellbauer and Heinrich Köbberling on bass and drums for a decade, has now added traditional-to-free- blasting Berlin tenor saxophonist Uli Kempendorff. The set ́s only cover is David Bowie ́s This Is Not America, with Kempendorff taking a group version from stealthy insinuation to confrontational split-note wailing, and Hülsmann developing an unaccompanied account as plaintive harmony-shifts against a solemnly tapping repeated note. Sometimes it feels like the 1950s Cool School and Miles Davis ́s mid-60s group have become conjoined (notably on Muellbauer ́s zigzagging Le Mistral); Hülsmann ́s title track is a gently enigmatic sax/piano theme over a soft bass vamp. There are also tender ballads, drum-pattern riddles that turn into swing, and Muellbauer ́s Wrong Song is a film nor-like harmony that becomes a sax turmoil. It ́s clever, thoughtful, inquisitively contemporary jazzmaking, right in the ECM ballpark.“
John Fordham for The Guardian, Jazz album of the month, November, 4 of 5 stars, 10/2019
This successful formation or transformation of a band, which is expressed in an album on the highest level in terms of composition, technique, dramaturgy and sound-aesthetics, was honored in with the award of the German Jazz Prize for the best instrumental album (national) in June 2021.