Tonight’s concert featured Stockhausen’s Tierkreis – a set of 12 charming, naive melodies for music box, named after the signs of the Zodiac. Pianist and composer Bruno Heinen presented his version for jazz sextet: a synthesis of composition, arrangement and improvisation. Additionally, Heinen is in possession of four of the original music boxes from the 1970s, and these were heard at various points throughout.
Stockhausen instructed that every performance of Tierkreis begins (and ends) with the current star sign and, thus, the first movement was Pisces: a haunting bass clarinet and saxophone duo, faintly reminiscent of a hazy 1920s movie soundtrack.
Aries was next, opening with one of the music boxes. Here, Heinen’s classical training was evident, imitating Stockhausen’s melody in Bach-like counterpoint, before smoothly segueing to Taurus. Arranged for piano, bass and drums, this began energetically with Latin-inspired rhythms, before gradually transforming into something quainter.
Gemini, Cancer and Leo were perhaps a little more conventional (all adhering to the head-solos-head structure ubiquitous in jazz), though Cancer did feature wonderfully complex drum patterns, interlocking cleverly with the rest of the ensemble. James Allsopp’s bass clarinet playing was fantastic, full of snarling multiphonics and dramatic virtuosity.
Virgo was the highlight of the concert. Trumpeter Fulvio Sigurtà channelled Miles Davis’ sound in Ascenseur pour l'échafaud, in a performance full of magic and soul. An ethereal melody first drifts over a piano accompaniment and then music box, highlighting Heinen’s compositional ability and his willingness to experiment with Stockhausen’s original material.
Jon Scott’s drumming was wonderfully restrained throughout, proving that colour and imagination does not necessarily come from complexity and density. This was most apparent in Libra, a short conversation between kit and music box, occasionally aggressive.
Scorpio was funky – full of stab chords, driving rhythms and wailing crescendos – while Sagittarius was a schizophrenic, screeching bass solo, with a surprising tuneful coda. Heinen may have taken inspiration from another major twentieth-century composer for Capricorn; its endless chord sequences and bird-like wind motifs are reminiscent of Messiaen.
After Aquarius, a short movement for piano and music box, the concert ended with Pisces. This time it was scored for the entire ensemble, punchier than its previous incarnation. It was a pleasure to listen to this innovative programme, performed by some seriously talented musicians.