Julia Hülsmann Quartet w/Theo Bleckmann - A Clear Midnight  Kurt Weill and America - ECM 2418



Pianist Julia Hülsmann and singer Theo Bleckmann, in a first collaborative recording, celebrate the “unsung Weill” alongside the master’s best-loved works including “Mack The Knife”, “Speak Low” and “September Song”, adding also Julia’s settings of Walt Whitman, with whom Kurt Weill felt an affinity. The project came together at the instigation of the Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau in 2013 and since then has gained new life on the road and been fine-tuned in this studio recording made in Oslo in June 2014 with Manfred Eicher as producer. It marks a musical advance for the Hülsmann group at a number of levels, and these recastings of Weill open up new imaginative possibilities for the players. Bassist Marc Muellbauer brings his arranging skills to the fore on “Your Technique”, “September Song”, “This Is New” and “River Chanty”.

English trumpeter and flugelhornist Tom Arthurs, who made his debut with Hülsmann on In Full View is fully integrated on A Clear Midnight. Often his trumpet doubles or underpins Bleckmann’s singing, sometimes surrounding the vocals with a halo of sound. Bleckmann’s intimate delivery, Hülsmann’s sense for the bare-boned ballad, and the discreet arrangements put a well-deserved focus on the lyrics, including the very fine song texts of Langston Hughes, Ogden Nash, Maxwell Anderson, Ira Gershwin and Ann Ronnell – as well as Marc Blitzstein’s brilliantly-vivid adaptation of Brecht, which gave “Mack The Knife” immortality. “The emphasis on slow tempos was made almost intuitively,” says Hülsmann. “These wonderful lyrics seem to me to demand that you give them space – and give the listener time to really follow the words”.


Over the years the music of Weill has been interpreted in countless ways but the jazz band remains an especially apt context. Weill, the German-born composer who became a US citizen - and one of the most passionate advocates of American constitutional values - hailed jazz enthusiastically as “the rhythm of our time” and called it “an international folk music of the broadest consequence.” In the Hülsmann group and singer Bleckmann he has German interpreters who share his perspectives on the all-embracing potential of the music, and find in it the freedom to be themselves. This includes, in one instance, the freedom to pass over Weill’s melody in favour of Julia’s own, for a setting of Walt Whitman’s “Beat! Beat! Drums!”. Julia furthermore sets Whitman’s meditational text “A Clear Midnight” (“This is the hour O soul … Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done”) and brings music to “A Noiseless Patient Spider”, another beautifully-observed Whitman poem.