Songs from Aipotu (2011)



Frank Gratkowski - alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet
Thomas Lehn - analogue synthesizer
Philip Zoubek - piano
Dieter Manderscheid - double bass
Martin Blume - drums & percussion

modern classics

introduction was recorded on November 5th, 2008 at Museum Bochum, modern classics, gavotte & shot were recorded on September 27th 2009 at LOFT, Cologne


"Songs from Aipotu" is in the list of best new jazz releases of 2011 by Steve Holtje:

"Shift are Frank Gratkowski (reeds), Thomas Lehn (synthesizer), Philip Zoubek (piano), Dieter Manderscheid (bass) and Martin Blume (drums, perc) and “Songs from Aipotu” is a lucky bag of subliminal brewing and communicative energy. For a short moment “Introduction”, the central track, is very tender, lost in thought, almost idyllic, but soon the clarinet gets nervous, it is pushing the others and what follows is an explosion of creativity, an up and down of emotions. The reeds are kissing, smacking, and squealing at the same time, there are synthesizer beeps and creaks put through the grinder and sparkling piano chips and all of a sudden the track is almost petering out. While piano, bass and drums are the cement that bonds the pieces, Lehn’s synthesizer is always trying to rip them up, he is tearing and dragging at them, instigating and fueling the expressionistic outbursts. On the one hand the others try to follow him, on the other hand they have to make sure that the pieces do not lose their tracks, a dichotomy which gives the album a great tension. Lehn differs from other contemporary synth players because he uses his instrument in an aggressive yet discrete way. Whereas other electronic improvisers often depend on acoustic input, he is more independent treating the synth like a solo instrument.
The result is an excellent group improvisation and Frank Gratkowski says about his music that there were no predefined rules, that’s why he calls it instant composing. The fact of structuring the music instantly was very important and on this album passion and creative will are combined, the music possesses precision within channeled sonic explorations even in its fiercest outbursts.
Aipotu (“utopia” in reverse) is a word from a novel by the German author Peter-Paul Zahl. Neither is it music from the beautiful ideal state, nor the exact opposite - it is music from the here and now, compelling, uncompromising, rich, and prodigious in its power."
Martin Schray

"Shift consists of Frank Gratkowski (alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), Thomas Lehn (analog synthesizer), Philip Zoubek (piano), Dieter Manderscheid (acoustic bass), and Martin Blume (drums/percussion). They play freely improvised music that may or may not be "jazz" but is certainly exceptionally colorful music. Sometimes they are seemingly concerned only with timbre and, perhaps, free rhythm, making sonic sculptures that frequently involve using their instruments in non-traditional ways; the vast array of noises Gratkowski deploys is especially impressive, and Lehn wins the prize for "Wildest Jazz Synth Since Herbie Hancock and Dr. Patrick Gleeson in Mwandishi." At other times, especially when everybody plays, it sounds more like "traditional" free jazz; occasionally Gratkowski will even play a genuinely tuneful melody. All of these extremes can be found in the epic opening track, "introduction," which at 39:37 is nearly two-thirds of the album. Dynamics and textural density vary as widely as the timbres; there's more of a sense of an anything-can-happen than in most free jazz. If you aren't one of those people who insists on harmony and melody all the time, or a beat ever, you may find this just as compelling as I do."
Steve Holtje

"The climate shifts are continuous, from jazzy storms to icy wails to dense, pointillist sound forests, as rapid melodic fragments and filtered noise shards swirl and scatter. Superbly recorded, exquisitely detailed and balanced, the ensemble focuses equally on texture and tonality, building to the kind of spastic, swinging energy that hurtles your psyche into oblivion. A real keeper.”
Lawrence Joseph,

"Is Free improvisation Utopia? It is for some, both performers and listeners. (Of course, there are others who think it’s pure hell.) But Utopia can only be achieved if the improvisers are working together, none upstaging the other, group unity being the ultimate goal.
Shift is a quintet composed of five German musicians, clearly in synch with one another and very active on the Free improv scene. How they achieve Free improvisation of the highest order is by making music that is clearly a group music. To be sure, there are interludes where one or two members may lay out but that only makes the music stronger, allowing the music to breathe. What’s impressive about Shift is that even when they are going full tilt the players never seem to step on each others’ toes. There appears to be an intuitive attention to detail at work. This isn’t music afraid to get loud. “Modern Classics” starts out sparse only to gradually turn into a blistering full-bore group improvisation, and winds down beautifully at the end. This is music succeeds because it seems to understand the basic precepts of Free group interaction.
Gratkowski is probably the best known member of the group but he is a model of a team player in this ensemble. The real ringer in this band is Lehn. His work using analogue synthesizer always lends an air of textural uniqueness to any ensemble he graces. As an improviser he always seems to be there as both a support and an instigator. On this disc, the most unlikely sounds seemingly emerge from out of nowhere—usually Lehn’s synthesizer. Zoubek is the most unassuming member of the group but is frequently doing pre¬pared piano work that for the most part blends in undetectably with the group fabric. Manderscheid works at textures from the standard methods used to produce sounds out of the bass but he adds some percussive elements as well. And Blume sounds like he’s playing an extended kit, giving his work a further textural reach.
There’s depth and scope to this music found in the best Free improvisation and Songs From Aipotu does indeed achieve utopian goals.
Robert Iannapollo, Cadence 10-11-12/2011 Magazine

"Los cuatro pesos pesados de la escena alemana (FRANK GRATKOWSKY al saxo, clarinete y clarinete bajo; THOMAS LEHN al sintetizador; PHILIP ZOUBEK al piano; DIETER MANDERSCHEID al bajo y MARTIN BLUME a las percusiones) que forman THE SHIFT,muestran su amor por el detalle con virtuosismo y creando un potente tejido, a veces tenso y otras veces suave. El quinteto se caracteriza por unos movimientos que no requieren de mucho esfuerzo para pasar de un idioma a otro y en la creación de texturas que hacen pensar que los componentes de este grupo están conectados por una especie de red telepática."
La Rebelión De Los Antioxidantes (Programa 30-11-2011)

"De titel van deze cd kan je behoorlijk op het verkeerde spoor zetten. Op ‘Songs from Aipotu’ is niets te horen dat ook maar in de verste verte op een liedje lijkt. Het nieuwe superkwintet uit de Duitse improvisatiescene bouwt namelijk spannende groepimprovisaties die uitblinken door dynamiekgebruik en klankkleuronderzoek. De opzet van de stukken is soms pointillistisch: nootje hier, veegje daar, overdacht en uitgekiend. Langzaam worden de gaten tussen al die losse nootjes opgevuld tot er bij tijd en wijle bijzonder heftige geluidswolken ontstaan, die echter aldoor helder blijven. De overwegende esthetiek neigt daarbij meer naar modern klassiek dan jazz, hoewel juist in de track‘Modern Classics’ een duidelijk forward motion-gevoel in het slagwerk zit, en Gratkowski er heel freejazz-achtig overheen dendert. Het vijftal heeft dus een goed gevoel voor verwarrende titels.
Herman te Loo, Jazzflits

Ken Waxmann:

The Shift, Songs from Aipotu, Leo Records, 2011: ****

"L’album débute par un morceau de 39 minutes (le disque propose deux concerts enregistrés sur une période de 10 mois)…est-ce de l’impro, est-ce une composition en plusieurs mouvements, est-ce du jazz ? Difficile à dire…disons avant-jazz très proche de la musique contemporaine de saveur européenne, mais free. Juste pour ce morceau, l’album vaut le détour (il y a 3 autres titres sur le disque). Le quintet nous offre une musique parfois très dense, free au possible, mais pas trop débordante, télépathique, féroce, presque noise…puis l’énergie une fois dissoute, le piano arpente des avenues plus silencieuses, ça craque, le sax parlotte, embrasse, rumine, ça frotte, ça percute, on prend son temps…des textures électroniques apparaitront, synthétiseur ténébreux dans une chambre aux horreurs, petites miniatures avant quelques remontés spectaculaires d’intensité. Musique de chambre, effets spatiaux, délire sonique, variation des textures, violence, accalmie, douceur…beaucoup de bruit, mais pas pour rien.

Au début les traits ne sont pas totalement définis, les frontières sont poreuses. Plutôt qu’une musique de tension(s) et de détente(s), s’envisage une musique d’attente et d’accomplissement. Le sens de ces grouillements, craquèlements et quasi-silence s’éclaircissent peu à peu. Dans ce demi-songe qu’est Introduction, les sons, frêles et distants, se brouillent, s’entrechoquent et donnent naissance à un rythme tendu, délivrant ainsi les élans enfouis. Le synthétiseur pousse alors ses larges vagues en plein large, le piano ne s’incommode plus d’un solo tranchant et la clarinette devient presque debusyenne.
Maintenant, tous peuvent resserrer les formes, ne plus taire leur jeu et grignoter le spasme en son entier (Modern Classics, Shot). Ainsi va la musique de Shift (Frank Gratkowski, Thomas Lehn, Philip Zoubek, Dieter Manderscheid, Martin Blume) : libre, autonome et diablement convaincante."