June 20, 2024


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Threads spin into the open: From the luck of improvising in the no man’s land of jazz – an encounter with the Berlin harpist Kathrin Pechloff: Video

Between heaven and earth, the music of Kathrin Pechlof moves in an airy intermediate realm. Down below, where gravity is on the increase, contrabassist Robert Landfermann makes his rounds and sometimes lends a handful of wood to the sound.

At the top, where the oxygen is already decreasing, Christian Weidner’s alto saxophone traverses the widths that she spans with her harp on slender, vibrato-free wings. Sometimes, however, an abrupt roll exchange occurs when Kathrin Pechlof penetrates into the deep registers to the Contra-C and Landfermann explores with the bow finest Flageolettfärbungen.

On two albums of the Munich-based label Pirouet, the language of this trio, which is always clearly articulated in the floating, has meanwhile been recorded. “Imaginarium” was released in 2013 – and a few weeks ago “Toward the Unknown”. An impressionistically changing sound mobile in the growing no-man’s-land of jazz and new music with rhythmically surprising gripping moments. The pieces, mostly of magical silence, are predominantly improvised, but are based on carefully composed basic shapes and motifs that sometimes come together in a traditional fugue. This form awareness is no coincidence.

Kathrin Pechlof studied classical harp in Munich. The “original familiar” of this musical world, which reaches back into childhood, still bounces on it. The love for fixed points in the repertoire, such as Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp, is unbroken, and when in the concert hall the force of a full orchestra passes through her, it can still happen that she stumbles home stunned. But the performing musician has given in to the inner voice that she has been calling for many years to devote herself entirely to improvised music.

What began with excursions in jazz-affine regions and finally culminated in a one-year jazz composition course in Cologne, is now very much in demand. For three years, she says during a conversation in her adopted home of Berlin, she has not played a single classical concert. While practicing the old notes are often indispensable, especially the distance to the sociotope classic but growing.

This also has to do with the feeling of interchangeability that she did not even get to know in jazz. “People are often thrown together for a single concert without much interpersonal contact and may be dealing with a conductor they have never met before. Although I find it quite uplifting to be a cog in the machinery of a Mahler symphony. But most of the time you sit around at the harp position and wait until you are allowed to play your seven bars.”

Conspiratorial proximity

What she has experienced in a happy community in the numerous formations of her career is even more true for her trio, where almost everything is involved in the personalities involved. In the course of time, a conspiratorial proximity has developed, which can initiate major musical changes with the help of tiny gestures. Anyway, where the borderline between the artistic and the private is at stake, it’s hard to say any more.

Robert Landfermann has become a good friend – and Christian Weidner even her husband. Together with her, she also curates the Serious Series, which begins in mid-September, with improvised music. One of those self-organized festivals in which the German scene on the axis Berlin – Cologne – Paris reveals all its wealth.

Her own way of improvising describes her as research work. On the one hand she shuns everything idiomatic and in formulas solidified of jazz, on the other hand her instrument is not that easy. “Licks and Scales,” she says, “do not exist with me in the same way that other Sonny Rollins or John Coltrane think. I make small studies of what I have improvised and then take that into my vocabulary. In the trio, we just as often spin our strings without any prescription.”


Beyond codified playing techniques, she has no interest in manipulating the sounds of her harp like Zeena Parkins does. “Whether I play Debussy or my own pieces: I do everything with my hands and do not use electronics.” For a while she tried an arsenal of sound-altering equipment, even working with a looper. The result left her cold.

She had a lot of stuff around, but hardly used it. “Even the seconds it took to bring a piece of wood to the string to make a sound became annoying to me. The harp is great to prepare with paper, cloth or felt. In the New Music, which I have played a lot, such extended techniques are used regularly. Ultimately, they remain an experiment. ”

She does not want to be fixated on sounds that she does not get rid of so quickly: “I want to be able to react flexibly when the situation changes.” The truthfulness she seeks does not even allow stylistic contortions. The existing six and a half octaves, each with seven diatonic tuned strings, which can be raised by the pedals by up to two semitones and thus receive their chromatic differentiation, are enough for them. “Of course I can set up a blues scale on the harp. But she’s just not built for such phrases, not to mention that the harp has nothing to do with the blues culture. She has something aristocratic about her – even if I try to stay away from it. ”

Faible for the colors

So their music, with all admiration for the great colorists of jazz from Duke Ellington to Henry Threadgill, has a distinctively European character. It has recently been enhanced by a string quartet that expands its trio to septet – although the new members, including violinist Biliana Voutchkova and double bassist Dieter Manderscheid, are seasoned improvisers and by no means make the nicely arranged icing on the cake. The pieces have remained the same, they are now being interpreted completely new.

Kathrin Pechlof composes at the piano. There she has all twelve notes of the octave available, and she thinks afterwards how certain ideas of sound can be transferred to the harp. “Writing, thinking about every sixteenth note for weeks on end, and improvising complements each other,” she says. “I measure the field in between. In contrast to the merely notated, where there is a work with x reference shots, through which one has to pave his way. ”

She also likes to improvise on given structures as she plunges into completely free play. The immersion in this cosmos has become a real need for her. Breaks in continuity avenge quickly. After three or four days of not playing, she complains, the instrument sounds strange. The cornea has receded, the obviousness of the touch must be reconquered laboriously.

Thus, the harp was part of their summer holiday, literally complaining about family luggage and relieving their souls. “For me, there is nothing better than sitting down and finding that space of reflection. You hug the instrument, and its sound flows through your whole body. I wish this engagement with each human being – no matter what instrument. “One can now get an idea of ​​the happiness that lies in the collective nights of the Berlin jazz collective.

Sechseinhalb Oktaven, 1001 Welt. Die Harfenistin Kathrin Pechlof.

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