Meinhart arrived in New York City in 2010 and has maintained a busy schedule as a composer, performer, and touring artist. His album, Berlin People (Sunnyside, 2019), introduced the greater listening public to his Berlin-based group of the same name. Immediately, the group took to the road, playing extensively throughout Europe and South America.
As Berlin People matured on the road and in live performance, the music began to transform. Pieces that the group played every night began to diverge from the written page and became more free as band members began to feel more independence in their roles. Meinhart also began inviting his band-mates to provide their own compositions to be included in Berlin People’s book.
To capture the evolution of the band, Meinhart decided to record Berlin People live at the A-Trane in Berlin, the place he first heard Rosenwinkel in 2008. The A-Trane is one of the few clubs in the world that still provides musicians with a full week of performances, allowing the music to truly blossom over the week long residency. The pieces on Dark Horse were recorded on two separate tours in 2021 and 2022. Most of the takes were taken from the final day at the club, representing the zenith of freedom and spontaneity that Berlin People approached the pieces with.
‘Luna Park’ opens with a good bass line before the sax brings on the melody, which I thought had a familiar sound to it but was unable to place. This is good straight-ahead jazz with a tight rhythm section and good soloing from Meinhart, Rosenwinkel, and Hornung. ‘Dark Horse’ gets a nice solo sax intro before we move on to the main course on track three, which also opens with a solo sax. This is a more contemporary sounding number than the album’s opener. I found the sound to be quite atmospheric, particularly through Rosenwinkel’s guitar work. The bass and drums combination works very well here underpinning the melodic lines of guitar and sax.
‘Dreamers’ is, apparently, a contrafact of ‘You Stepped Out of a Dream’ and sounds bright and lively with Meinhart on soprano sax. The sax and guitar share the melody and the contrast in sound dynamics is interesting. The rhythm section really drive this number – I very much like the bass playing of Tom Berkmann – and when the front line drops out to leave a trio setting you get to hear just how good these guys are. ‘Gift of Time’ is a nicely paced ballad with some very good unison playing by Meinhart and Rosewinkel, but for me it is Luwig Hornung at the piano who stands out for his deftness of touch and phrasing.
The other non-Meinhart tune on the album is ‘Torn’, which has quite a different sound profile from what has been heard so far. There is a recurring soundscape motif against which the rest of the number is performed. The guitar gives the tune a prog-rock meandering feel while the piano and sax keep the jazz element in place. I rather like this tune with its tonal variation and texture and that soundscape point of reference. ‘Sonic River’ is the second tune on the album to get its own separate intro, which does have a sonic sound to it.
‘Sonic River’ I found to be a fascinating and intriguing number. The melody and the rhythm appear to be pushing and pulling against each other but in such a way that works. There is a pulsing groove line that acts as a musical core around which the melodies are woven – you really do have to listen to this to get anywhere near understanding what it is I am trying to say (oh for some musical theory knowledge). This brings us to the final track, ‘Berlin People’, with its strong bass into drums into piano trio intro before the sax joins in with the melody. This is a good up-tempo number on which all the musicians get to show off their skills across the track’s fifteen minute length.
I did enjoy this album but though it is a “live” recording the finished product did not really capture the club atmosphere – but then how many “live” recordings do? The real strength of this album is the trio that support the two lead instruments – an album release from them would be interesting to hear. Meinhart and Rosenwinkel are two players whose names I am familiar with but not so much their work, something I will rectify after listening to Dark Horse. There is some good music to hear on this album but the “live” element did not come through and it may have been better to have gone into the studio for a one-take session.
Dark Horse is released on the Sunnyside Records label and will be available via Bandcamp from Friday, 28th April.
Musicians: Tobias Meinhart – tenor & soprano saxophone; Kurt Rosenwinkel – guitar; Ludwig Hornung – piano; Tom Berkmann – bass; Mathias Ruppnig – drums.
Tracklist: 1. Luna Park. 2. Dark Horse (intro). 3. Dark Horse. 4. Dreamers. 5 Gift of Time. 6. Torn. 7. Sonic River (intro). 8. Sonic River. 9. Berlin People.
All compositions by Tobias Meinhart except ‘Torn’ by Tom Berkman and ‘Gift of Time’ by Mathius Ruppnig.