Frederik Köster / Die Verwandlung – Homeward Bound

Three years ago the trumpeter Frederik Köster from Cologne presented the first album of his then newly formed Band Die Verwandlung [The Transformation]. With pianist Sebastian Sternal and drummer Jonas Burgwinkel, who have both already received Jazz-Echo awards for their own productions, as well as with bassist Joscha Oetz, Die Verwandlung heads into a different musical direction than Köster’s previous quartet. The quartet already brought him the Neuer Deutscher Jazzpreis [New German Jazz Prize], an Echo award as well and international concerts from Mexico to India and at the North Sea Festival.

“In a certain way Die Verwandlung is complementary to the quartet”, Köster, born 1977 in Germany’s Hochsauerland region, explains, “my idea was to show more facets, to handle the compositions more freely and to intensify the interaction within the band.” In that way the band consciously tends towards jazz-ideals from the time before “Bitches Brew” and fusion-jazz. Particularly, because Köster’s trumpet playing is primarily inspired by Freddie Hubbard’s sound and style, whereas he appreciates Miles Davis specifically for his conceptual transformations and relevance as a total work of art. Regardless of all influences, Köster & Co. sound original and modern, not lastly because of the sparing, purposeful use of electronic effects. In the beginning Die Verwandlung was driven by the freshness and energy that is inherent in every newly created formation. Meanwhile the four gentlemen between their early 30s and early 40s have worked together a lot and besides the great joy in playing together, they have developed an intuitive mutual understanding. “We can still surprise each other,” Köster states enthusiastically and at the same time values the trust in his partners, that permits “surrendering control and just letting yourself fall while playing.”

The new album Tension/Release has been in planning for quite some time, but had to be postponed for a while, because Frederik Köster was touring extensively with Trilok Gurtu all over Europe in 2013/2014. The wait is rewarded. Tension/Release offers a great deal of dynamic and several unforeseeable twists and turns and unexpected impressions. For example, Sebastian Sternal also plays the Rhodes Piano, which “sounds a little more dirty” than the dignified grand piano, Köster says. After a long stretch of time the bandleader picked up the flugelhorn again and thereby also expands the sound spectrum. It now ranges from lyrical passages to melodically rolling sounds, all the way to wide arching developments and bright shining modulations that can be finely chiseled and powerful at the same time.

The melancholically tinged “Opening” and the equally curt, multi-layered “Closing” make up the framework of Tension/Release. With both of these sketches Köster is bowing to the old master Kenny Wheeler, whom he was able to meet shortly before his death. The second piece of the album, “Shiva”, exhibits an initially reserved, but then ever more forceful band and captivates with its intense dramaturgy. Köster intones variably over elaborate rhythmic structures, interesting piano motifs, increasingly swirling drum patterns and distinctive bass lines. The intelligent groove captures musicians and listeners alike, Sternal virtually flies through all registers, Shiva’s mystic, universal energy seems to be flowing directly into the band. “Ocean Park” allows a moment to breath with its melodic, long notes, subtle bass solo and an overall warm timbre. “The Void” changes between elegance and offense, between transparency and densification; the piano figure from “Saint-Brieuc” seems almost impressionistic, to which Burgwinkel strikes the drumheads with his hands and Köster aspirates light breezy notes.

The name of the album, Tension/Release, was derived from the composition of the same name and alludes not only to musical stylistic devices. “Of course tension and release occurs over and over in jazz, but also in other parts of life,” Köster ponders. The piece has two contrasting parts; one rather melodically/harmonically oriented and one focused on rhythm. At first atmospheric, with a bowed double bass and sparkling piano figures, it slowly becomes more concrete through the open drum patterns. After a break, the beats intensify and Köster and Sternal engage in an abstract dialog, the trumpet insisting without pungency in high range. “While I was writing the piece, it crossed my mind that life generally works according to this principle,” Köster tells, “everything has two sides and it’s always about Yin und Yang.” This is even true for the deity Shiva, who stands for both destruction and renewal in Hinduism.

The current repertoire is also mostly notated, Frederik Köster says, “but good musicians always find a way to break out of the system and throw concepts overboard.” “Schaltjahr” [leap year] is an older piece that made it onto the new album, because “it sounds quite different with these musicians and just suits our current sense of playing.” Here Sebastian Sternal intersperses a surprising effect by playing the grand piano and the Rhodes simultaneously.

And again Tension/Release includes a song sung by Tobias Christl. This time Köster set a poem by James Joyce to music. “I have always been a fan of good songs and singer/songwriters like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell,” he explains. “Although I started playing the trumpet when I was nine and then added classical piano two years after, I later played guitar or organ in rock and ska-punk bands.” Consequently he was into the music of Pink Floyd and the early Genesis at that time, then Jeff Buckley, Rage Against The Machine and The Prodigy. Or Bad Religion, “because of their lyrics.” It was quite late that Köster completely switched to jazz; after having studied classical trumpet for a while. Nevertheless, he still enjoys writing songs. “I know that I’m not a good lyricist That’s why I prefer composing to poetry of Allen Ginsberg or James Joyce.” As composer and trumpeter Frederik Köster is without question one of the most interesting characters of his generation.