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Benedikt Jahnel: piano
Antonio Miguel: double bass
Owen Howard: drums 

The trio with Spanish bassist Antonio Miguel and Canadian drummer Owen Howard has been an “invariant” in the life of Berlin-based pianist Benedikt Jahnel, “a constant in a transformational period” as he puts it, and new album The Invariant is issued as the players reach their tenth anniversary as a working unit. 

“I like very much interacting with the same group and digging deeper each time into the musical conversation,” Jahnel says. “You have this energetic input and this intense time working together, and then I believe the music develops even when we’re apart. When we come back together I can hear the progression that has taken place in the pieces.” If natural evolution contributes to the music’s growth so do interventions by the pianist-composer, for whom constant revision is part of the creative process: “The version of any given piece that a listener hears on the new album might be the fifth or tenth version. We take the music on the road and then I’ll adjust it, maybe quite dramatically. Even in the studio I will often still adapt pieces, and of course in that process I’m constantly integrating ideas generated from the bass and the drums.” Jahnel is a prolific writer and The Invariant pools the best of the many pieces he has composed in the last five years, incorporating the dynamic responses of his trio partners into the fabric of the material. For the most part this is music carefully shaped for these players; this is its strength and the source of its detail.

The Invariant was recorded in Oslo’s Rainbow Studio in April 2016, and produced by Manfred Eicher. Its opening track, “Further Consequences”, picks up where the trio’s critically-lauded album Equilibrium left off, extending ideas about pianistic patterning and textural playing. Like many of Jahnel’s tunes an odd-metred piece, it also contains elements of swing, as the pianist reacts to the implications of Owen Howard’s drumming. “For me this is a departure. I’m more of a straight eighths player. Owen is more strongly rooted in the whole tradition of jazz and the way he approached the tune pulled me, in the solo section, toward the world of swing phrasing…”

The feeling of swing permeates also “The Circuit”. Designed by Jahnel to be an easily-breathing tune amid more heavily arranged pieces, it is still modestly unorthodox in its form, with a solo preceding the head of the tune, and a beguiling feature for Antonio Miguel’s bass over gently pulsing piano and brushed drums at the end. 

“Mirrors”, at nine and a half-minutes the album’s longest tune, is one of several pieces written, as Jahnel says, “from a very pianistic perspective: it has a choral introduction and lives from that choral, harmonic, trichord movement”. A rubato section gives way to stressed rhythm. “There are many parts, it’s quite heavily arranged, and even the ‘free’ section incorporates structures.” In the ballad “Monolake” “moving inner voices in the piano define the piece. I tried to design it in such a way that the harmonic anchors are slightly away from where you expect them to be. “

“Part of the Game” has “an odd little melody. The tune is really all about the rhythm, with fantastic drumming from Owen.” Unexpectedly cast into the middle of the programme, “For the Encore” was “designed as a textural statement, to even things out.” “Interpolation 1”, one of a series of fragmentary ideas, “opens up a new window, offering another perspective of the trio with more advanced harmony.” Finally, “En Passant”, a soulful ballad with a touching bass solo, brings the album to a peaceful conclusion.

In addition to his work with the trio, Benedikt Jahnel plays with – and contributes compositions to – the band Cyminology and is featured on the group’s ECM recordings As Ney, Saburi and Phoenix.

A mathematician as well as a musician, Jahnel is a researcher at the Weierstrass-Institut Berlin, with interacting particle systems in the context of probability theory amongst his main interests. While sceptical about parallels between maths and music, he allows that “what mathematics can do really well if you have a practical problem is to make it abstract: get rid of the flesh and try and understand the mechanics of the bones. A detour via abstraction is a powerful tool, and in writing music it can sometimes also be helpful in developing things, especially if the starting point is emotional and intuitive, as it usually is with my pieces.”

Benedikt Jahnel studied music at the University of Arts in Berlin – where he first met Owen Howard, who was there as visiting professor – and at City College, New York. In New York Jahnel and Howard reconnected and also met up with Antonio Miguel.

In the course of his career, Antonio – born in Zaragoza in Northern Spain – has played with musicians including Paquito D’Rivera, Jerry González, Claudio Roditi, Ben Sidran, Rosario Giuliani, Rick Margitza, Jorge Pardo, Perico Sambeat, Ximo Tébar and Pedro Iturralde in the jazz scene, as well as flamenco artists José Luis Montón, Josemi Carmona, Rocio Marquez and El Negri, and artists like Buika, Paloma Berganza, Carmen Paris, Miguel Rios and Ara Malikian.

Owen Howard, born in Edmonton, Canada, but Brooklyn based for many years, is a bandleader in his own right. He has also played with Joe Lovano, Kenny Wheeler, John Abercrombie, Dave Liebman, Kenny Werner, George Garzone, Dave Holland, Sheila Jordan and Tom Harrell, amongst many others.


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