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 197475) 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)