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MICHAEL WOLLNY

Since ACT started their series Young German Jazz with Michael Wollny’s trio debut call it [em], the press has been celebrating him, not only as a representative of a new generation of German jazz musicians, but also as a most promising young talent on the piano. “Young enough, not to have to lug around the ballast of the jazz tradition, and perceptive enough to discover something new every day” (K. Heidkamp Die Zeit). Wollny - a thoroughly modest musician - is nonetheless pleased at compliments like this one, and at the lasting success of his up to now five releases on ACT. Along with [em] these releases feature him with the sextet Young Friends and not least with his duo partner Heinz Sauer, and have brought him numerous national and international bookings, as well as the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik (for Melancholia, ACT 9433-2) or the Bayerischer Kulturförderpreis 2005. “His résumé is impressive,” the official eulogy stated, and this is the result of the consistent development of an unusual talent.

Born in Schweinfurt in 1978 and living in Berlin since 2005, Michael Wollny received piano and violin tuition as a five year-old, and along with classical studies, improvisation was part of the curriculum from the very beginning. “As a seven or eight year-old, playing piano to me always meant improvising as well as playing Bach or Mozart.” He finally discovered jazz when an uncle gave him an LP of Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert. Sixteen year-old Wollny started commuting to Würzburg to take part in the jazz course at the Hermann-Zilcher Conservatory. It was here that Wollny met Chris Beier, Wollny’s teacher from 1997 through to his diploma in 2002, and an idiosyncratic jazz pianist who prompted Wollny to develop his own concepts instead of following the academic process of learning the standard repertoire from second hand sources.

Wollny made the most of this freedom. He became active throughout Germany, played in the BuJazzO (the national youth jazz orchestra), where tutors Walter Norris and John Taylor held free jam sessions with the young pianist, rather than practising big-band arrangements. Wollny himself is more attracted to small units anyway. A first album as a leader was released in the year 2000 with Wolfgang Kriener on bass and Joachim Leyh on drums, the trio found themselves back in the studio the following year as a quartet under saxophonist Peter Back’s name, and 2002 as rhythm section to trumpeter Hans-Peter Salentin. His duo with saxophonist Hubert Winter showed Wollny’s attraction to this most intimate of group formats as early on as 2001.

Also in 2001 the pieces of the puzzle were starting to fall into place. Peter Back recommended Michael Wollny for the vacant position as pianist with the HR Jazz ensemble, which had been filled on a rotational basis since 1999 with the best musicians available in Germany. Thus Wollny, like his colleagues Jens Thomas, Hans Lüdemann or vibes player Christopher Dell, was booked into the Frankfurt studio II of the HR (the regional Hessian radio) to play with established protagonists of German jazz such as Albert and Emil Mangelsdorff, Christof Lauer, Stephan Schmock and last but not least Heinz Sauer.

Saxophonist Sauer, himself one of the great individualists in European jazz, is excited about the young man at the piano, and invites him to play with the Heinz-Sauer-Sextet at the 32nd German Jazz Festival in Frankfurt. Although seventy-something Sauer could easily pass as Wollny’s grandfather, the musicians communicate as if there were no such thing as a generation gap, as Wollny’s explains: “Heinz in no way tries to establish his thing. He brings a musical idea with him, and then he waits for what comes back. If you face a challenge like this as a musician, then it’s no student-teacher relationship, although I see it as a great honour to be able to play with him.” The attentive interplay of the two musicians is worth noting. Their first album Melancholia (ACT 9433-2) received the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik in 2005, they then travelled to Oslo to record the 2006 follow up album Certain Beauty (ACT 9442-2) at the Rainbow studio with ECM legend Jan Erik Kongshaug, the engineer who is responsible for Keith Jarrett’s piano sound. Rave reviews abound, and the French magazine JAZZMAN presents the duo with the distinguished “CHOC“ for the album of the year 2006.

The collaboration of three musicians as equals on a level playing field is the idea behind the trio [em], founded by Wollny in 2002 with bassist Eva Kruse and drummer Eric Schaefer. Something exciting is brewing here: Bavaria, Brunsbek and Berlin. Northerner Kruse studied in the capital and alternates between expressive experiments in the Arne Jansen Trio and the electrifying dance floor beats of the Tied & Tickled Trio from Weilheim. Eric Schaefer may currently be the most interesting drummer in Berlin. He studied with Stockhausen’s drummer Christoph Caskl and has won national acclaim with the band Nickendes Perlgras. In the solitude of a Gothenburg studio, it was this explosive mixture that produced the album call it [em] that premiered the ACT-series Young German Jazz in 2005. The magazine Jazzthing writes: “Call it [em] sounds like an inventory of young perceptive jazz in 2005. Fresh, full of free flying influences, not populist. A thing of its own, set apart from the mainstream, diagonal, shifting, nervous, frantic, meditative, movement, slow motion, dada, hip-hop, bebop” (Jazzthing). In the course of just one summer week, [em] celebrate their inception with performances at JazzBaltica, the Festival International de Jazz in Montreal, Canada, and the North Sea Jazz Festival in Den Haag. In September 2006, they release the sequel [em] II (ACT 9655-2). The three musicians not only deliver on their promising debut album, but also demonstrate a convincing growth in artistic maturity. The German weekly DIE ZEIT declared [em] to be “the world’s most exciting piano trio”, and the British “Observer” is convinced: “This is the future of jazz”.

Together with Kruse and Schaefer, Wollny is also a member of Young Friends, the formation that landed the next coup in Young German Jazz in fall 2005. The sextet with horn players Axel Schlösser, Florian Trübsbach and Johannes Lauer, interprets the Great German Songbook (ACT 9652-2), proving that the great melodies from Germany’s regions from the Middle Ages through the roaring twenties up to Grönemeyer and Xavier Naidoo can have their place in young jazz musicians repertoire.

Michael Wollny has naturally shown that he has become a notable international pianist by his contribution to the ACT-anthology Piano Works-Romantic Freedom (ACT 9749-2) that presents jazz piano in its purest form. Part of the same series as Joachim Kühn (the subject of his graduation paper) and Brad Mehldau, Wollny presents "There Again", his first solo recording, and a debut with consequences. Faced with the prospect of recording a complete solo-album, Wollny retreats to the Swedish island of Gotland. He listens to a lot of Schubert, Steve Reich, Björk and Joachim Kühn. He performs solo at JazzBaltica alongside colleagues like Brad Mehldau, Marcin Wasilewski and Kenny Barron, and in late February 2007, ACT releases his solo-album Hexentanz (ACT 9456-2) as the seventh volume of the series Piano Works.

In the speaker’s words at the presentation of the Bayerischer Kunstförderpreis 2005: “In his work, Wollny’s relaxed attitude, his love of risk and his never ending creativity bring his work as close as possible to the ideal of total improvisation. Our award winner is at the beginning of an international career, and we are eagerly anticipating the artistic highlights with which he will surprise us in the future.”

EVA KRUSE
As a child, Eva Kruse (born 1978 in Hamburg) was tought classical piano for eleven years, and went from there to playing the electrical bass in different bigbands at the age of 14.

In 1998 she started to study acoustic bass and improvisation at the university of arts „UdK“ in Berlin for teachers Sigi Busch, Jerry Granelli and David Friedman. She also went to Sweden to study with jazzbassist and professor Anders Jormin in Göteborg for half a year.

While playing with the youth-bigband „BundesJazzOrchester“ in 1999-01, she also took classes for pianist John Taylor who inspired her into starting writing music for different bands and projects.

Through university and „BuJazzO“ she got to know her fellow musicians in [em] Eric Schaefer and Michael Wollny.

In 2002, she formed a group of her own, and what started as Eva Kruse Trio soon became [em], while the trio wanted the name of the band to focus more on the music itself and the group as a unity. [em] is today her most important project with which she continously tours and records.

Other projects include the bands Firomanum, Young Friends, Arne Jansen Trio and Soap. Eva Kruse is also a well-known guest at the JazzBaltica Festival in Schleswig-Holstein (Northern Germany), where she has played the session-opener-act for a few years as well as broadcasted concerts with [em] and Firomanum.

At JazzBaltica she also got to know Swedish trombonist Nils Landgren which she will go on tour with in November/December 2006.

ERIC SCHAEFER
1976 born in Frankfurt am Main

1988 Eric Schaefer discovers drumming, performances of classical music, contemporary music and jazz in orchestras, percussion ensembles and combos follow, as well as concert tours of Germany, Israel, Hungary…

Member of the German National Youth Orchestra

Concert tours with the hardcore band “Soulmate”, with jazz and funk projects

1995 studies in classical percussion and contemporary music with Christoph Caskl in Cologne

1997 studies in jazz with Jerry Granelli and David Friedman in Berlin, composition lessons with Maria Schneider and Jim Knapp

Since 1998, concerts in:
South Africa, USA, Korea, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Poland, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Austria, Switzerland…

Festivals:
Montreal Jazz Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival, Porto Jazz Festival, Pori Jazz, Lausanne Jazz Festival, Bergen Jazz Festival, Frankfurter Jazztage, Stuttgart Theaterhausfestival, JazzBaltica Festival Salzau, Saalfelden…

CD releases or concerts with (among others):
Eric Schaefer + DEMONTAGE, Eric Schaefer + HENOSIS, [em] Wollny / Kruse / Schaefer, Johnny La Marama, Nickendes Perlgras, Arne Jansen Trio, Carsten Daerr Trio, Das Rosa Rauschen, Michael Thieke Unnununium, Songful, Stefan Schmolck’s Electric Bundle, Stefan Weeke Trio, Young Friends, Nils Klein Tentett, Carlos Bica, Frank Möbus, Rudi Mahall, Gebhard Ullmann, Ed Schuller, John Schröder, Herb Robertson, David Moss, Ulrike Haage, Steffen Schorn, Arkady Shilkloper, Axel Dörner…

Radio productions for:
Radio Berlin Brandenburg, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Norddeutscher Rundfunk, Südwestfunk, Hessischer Rundfunk, Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Österreichischer Rundfunk

Recipient of the Karl-Hofer-Prize of the UdK 2005

[EM] live im A-Trane Berlin

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