ECM has supplied the jazz world with more than its share of emotionally rich and introspective pianists. Add Julia Hülsmann to that lineage. The German pianist’s second ECM trio album, Imprint, is by turns reflective and muscular, and boasts both artistic assurance and probity.
While some contemporary pianists lean heavily on the lulling power of atmospherics, or come off as too eager to impress with technical overkill, Hülsmann impresses with her finesse. As a whole, Imprint makes its mark through symbiotic parts. The first three tracks display the pianist’s versatility, from the deceptively easy-going opener “Rond point” — with its tolling single-note melodic motif — to the rhythmic vigor of “Grand Canyon” to the prayerful poise and terse, harmonic exoticism of “A Light Left On.”
Active and sensitive ensemble players, bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling interact beautifully with the pianist and with one another. They also supply strong compositions, including Muellbauer’s rhythmically and harmonically quixotic “Ritual,” and Köbberling’s folk-like directness on “Storm in a Teacup” and nimble ambling on “Zahlen bitte.” The sole track from outside the trio, “Kauf dir einen bunten Luftballon,” is a sweet little Austrian tune circa 1940, but played with a 21st-century sensibility.
Hülsmann closes this cool and fascinating date with gentle harmonic tensions on the wily Euro-swing-meets-Monk number “Who’s Next.” Note the absence of a question mark: It’s a fitting finale for a body of music finding balance between musical assertion and unquenchable emotional quest.
— Josef Woodard