As a non-commercial entity, when you step out into the big wide world with a blog and all the related social media platforms you never really know what you will get back – except of course a not insignificant amount of spam email. Fortunately, some of what comes back is from a band or musician reaching out with their music and asking your opinion on what has been produced. One such musician is Tobias Hoffmann who asked if I would be interested in writing about his latest album release and this post is the result.
Back in September 2022 Mons records released a new album from the German saxophonist Tobias Hoffmann titled Conspiracy. Under the tag line “things just keep getting bigger” this recording, which follows his 2019 release Retrospective recorded with a nine piece band, features a full big band. Tobias said of the project:
When at the end of 2020 I started planning this project I was full of doubt. We were in the middle of the second wave of the corona pandemic, half of Europe was in lockdown, concerts and jobs had been cancelled and I was really not sure whether it would be the right moment to bring a large jazz ensemble to the studio and record an album of challenging instrumental Big Band music in that period of time.
The opening to ‘Conspiracy’, both title track and album, comes in full-bore before settling back to the main theme. This is a very strong opening number, multi-layered and textured and with a wonderful sax solo from Robert Unterköfler. The big band setting is perfect for portraying the crazy conspiracy theories that emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic that inspired the composition. ‘Elegy’, as one might expect from the tune’s title, tones everything down. This number is a fully through composed piece and features the horn section in an orchestral setting. The sound is resonant and has the feel of being a part of something much bigger, a musical idea shared.
‘December Song’ is, apparently, inspired by the music of Vince Mendoza and features a relatively simple sounding piano opening before the alto sax of Andy Schofield is added to the mix. This number has a medium swing feel and that blend of sound between alto and the horn/woodwind section is most gratifying. ‘Awakening’ has a shroud melancholy over it with a beautiful flugelhorn sound from Jakob Helling and deft touches of piano from Philipp Nykrin. The tune does transition into something more optimistic as the sound from the horns and piano becomes brighter, contrasting nicely with the opening section.
‘Relentless’ is a number of contrasting sections that ebb and flow to create an interesting, and at times, challenging composition held together by a repeating motif. This, for me, is the most contemporary of the tracks heard thus far and one that certainly benefits from multiple listens, each of which will give the listener another perspective of this most absorbing tunes. ‘Trailblazers’ has a vibrant opening section before Jonas Brinkmann on baritone sax brings a wonderful solo to the fore. There is also a magnificent trombone section as well as a solo spot from Kasperi Sarikoski. This really is a delightful number that gives a nod to the big band sound of the golden age of jazz while at the same time sounding refreshingly contemporary.
‘Renegade’ is very different in both style and feel to ‘Trailblazers’ with its more spacious opening section. The pulse of this number is punchy and slightly edgy before Simon Plötzeneder smooths out the sound with a sublime trumpet solo. Tobias said of this piece “I wrote this composition in a period when I was struggling to find my place in life and so I tried to capture the feeling of uncertainty in the composition.” In my opinion he has captured that uncertainty with an unfeigned understanding. ‘Imposter Syndrome’ features two main soloists, Martin Harms (tenor sax) and Robert Bachner (Euphonium) and if the idea is to portray a lack of doubt about skills, talents or accomplishments then it fails because this delivers on skill, talent and musicality. ‘Imposter Sydrome’ is a tune of two halves with the first half winding down the big band sound to the solo piano of Philip Nykrin. The contrast is stark but it does work and the tune builds once again to incorporate the bigger sound of the orchestra.
Conspiracy finishes with ‘Who Knows’ (intro and main track), which gives the trombones an opportunity to shine. I thoroughly enjoy the tone of the trombone so, for me, this is a real bonus sounding track. The ‘Intro’ gave me everything I wanted, what I was not expecting from the final track was the rock-edged sound of Vikka Wahl on guitar – who plays very well – but with the orchestral backing the mix works. This number builds and builds, texture upon texture until the sharp finish of the final note: fantastic!
I have to say that I very much enjoyed Conspiracy and am very pleased that Tobias Hoffmann got in touch and introduced me to his work. There is a lot on this album in terms of variations in style, tone, pitch, texture, and emotional connection. Some compositions were more challenging than others (and that is a good thing!) and not all went down well with Mrs SimplyJazzTalk (her jazz education is a work in progress), but I think that the structure of the album is as good as it is varied. Tobias once questioned whether the time was right for a big band project like this: based on what I have listened to the time is very much right and the resulting release is a pleasure to listen to. All that is left for me to do is check out Tobias Hoffmanns’ 2019 release Retrospective and compare the nonet sound to that of the big band that played Conspiracy.
Musicians: Saxophones & Woodwinds: Patrick Dunst – alto saxophone, soprano saxophone & flute; Andy Schofield – alto saxophone, flute & clarinet; Robert Unterköfler – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone & clarinet; Martin Harms – tenor saxophone & clarinet; Jonas Brinckmann – baritone saxophone & bass clarinet. Trumpets & Flugelhorns: Dominic Pessl, Bernhard Nolf, Felix Meyer, Simon Plötzeneder, Jakob Helling. Trombones: Kasperi Sarikoski, Daniel Holzleitner: Robert Bachner – trombone & euphonium; Johannes Oppel – bass trombone & tuba. Rhythm Section: Vilkka Wahl – guitar; Philipp Nykrin – piano & synthesizer; Ivar Roban Krizic – double bass & electric bass; Reinhold Schmölzer – drums & electronics.
The Jazz Orchestra is conducted by Tobias Hoffmann.
Tracklist: 1. Conspiracy. 2. Elegy. 3. December Song. 4. Awakening. 5. Relentless. 6. Trailblazers. 7. Imposter Syndrome. 9. Who Knows Intro. 10 Who Knows.