It doesn’t get much better than this. A mid-size ensemble and excellent composition, courtesy of pianist Johannes Wallmann and The Town Musicians (2015).
Accompanying Wallman are his decade-long trio partners, Sean Conly, bass; and Jeff Hirshfield, drums. Trumpeter Russ Johnson and guitarist Gilad Hekselman also contribute. And tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens sits in on a couple of tracks.
Some songs score points just for titles alone. “Water Music (for People Without Aquariums)” opens the set. Stephens joins Johnson and Wallmann for the blended melody. It’s an ambient, laid-back piece. It’s perfect for gazing upon a lake or river, or watching the aquatic life in case you do have an aquarium. After the opening sequence, Stephens takes the tenor on a leisurely tour, at times going through some rapid-fire rolls. Then it’s Wallmann’s turn. The listener’s imagination is on split-screen view, with one eyeing boaters and swimmers, while the other monitors fish. It’s a beautifully written and performed selection.
“November Song” is a slow, mellow ballad. Trumpet, guitar and sax blend for the lead. But in an interesting twist, they change combinations depending on the lines – all three at once, trumpet and guitar with sax providing fills, or guitar and sax. During Stephens’ solo, all except the trumpet are doing something more than just keeping time. Each is seemingly in his own place, yet well aware of the others. This is distinctive, because the typical solo has maybe one other instrument, bass, piano or drums, standing out. But in this case, one can fully enjoy Stephens’ passion while simultaneously appreciating Wallmann, Conly, Hirshfield and Hekselman. The sax steps back when it’s Wallmann’s turn, but the others remain firmly engaged. As the piano heats up, the horns slowly, softly add to the underscore.
Wallman was born in Munster, Germany, raised on Vancouver Island, spent some time in Oakland, California, and now resides in Wisconsin. The Town Musicians is shaped by the sounds of places Wallman has called home. He studied jazz piano and composition at Berklee College of Music and at New York University. He has toured extensively in North America, Europe and Asia. He has performed or recorded with such notables as Ingrid Jensen, Seamus Blake, Martin Wind and many more.
Wallman is already at work on his follow-up to The Town Musicians[. Another upcoming 2015 release, Always Something, will feature his 15-piece ensemble, The Sweet Minute Big Band.