Review: Bruno Heinen Sextet & Karlheinz Stockhausen – Tierkreis (2013)


artist: Bruno Heinen Sextet & Karlheinz Stockhausen
release: Tierkreis
format: CD
year of release: 2013
label: Babel
duration: 54:36

Karlheinz Stockhausen’s piece Tierkreis (composed in 1974/75) is a zodiacal work that leaves a lot of freedom to the performer. This series of twelve melodies, one for each sign, was originally written for music boxes, but can basically be played on any instrument, and there have been many different versions: for piano, voice, lute, orchestra, etc. A search on YouTube will yield several examples to satisfy your curiosity. Interpreted like this, the music often maintains much of its original airiness, but you could just as well jazzify the thing, which is what Bruno Heinen did with his sextet (Heinen: piano; Sigurta: trumpet; Allsopp: bass clarinet; Challenger: tenor sax; Di Biase: bass; Scott: drums).

This group interpretation, starting and ending with the sign of Aries, all according to Stockhausen’s original performance rules, combines much of the open tonality of the composition with arrangements that add jazzy harmony and further experiments. In this way, the music sounds slightly more conventional at times, but there are also lots of moments where some of the cosmic strangeness present in the ‘bare’ versions of the piece is retained, not to mention room for improvisation that adds another layer to the work.

The faithfulness to the original melodies differs per sign — the two Aries tracks, as well as e.g. Libra and Capricorn, are very conservative, and they even retain music boxes as an instrument, though combined with touches of piano, and in the case of the closing track, subtle bass bowing. Even when the full band is at it, such as in Leo, the original melodies often have center stage, although carried by trumpet in this case. At other times, the new arrangements are more conspicuous than the original melodies. Accordingly, the moods are quite different in each ‘sign’, making this a highly varied album. As said, the opener has the estranging tonality of the original, but Taurus quickly shifts to an upbeat energy. Gemini, however, is extremely laid back, moving into almost stereotypical jazz territory with lounging calm piano and sax leads. Then there’s plenty of improvisation and soloing, even just drums near the end of Cancer, which is always nice to hear — for a drummer, at least.

I came into the album expecting, for some reason, an interpretation in which the original melodies were for the greater part performed on jazz instruments, but adding little to Stockhausen’s original guidelines. However, Heinen really worked with the material and took liberties with the composition that are not all too common in the interpretation of ‘classical’ music, but which I like to think are closer to what Stockhausen himself would have liked, in the spirit of experimentation. The result is a relatively smooth work, compared to the ‘naive’ original, one that highlights many aspects of jazz, but which also does justice to Stockhausen’s original melodies. It took me some time to get used to, but this Tierkreis is an excellent and versatile work.

Reviewed by O.S.

Tracklist:

1. Aries (3:21)
2. Taurus (2:18)
3. Gemini (6:03)
4. Cancer (7:36)
5. Leo (5:33)
6. Virgo (3:47)
7. Libra (3:03)
8. Scorpio (6:43)
9. Sagittarius (2:29)
10. Capricorn (4:20)
11. Aquarius (3:14)
12. Pisces (4:03)
13. Aries (2:05)

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