Julia Hulsmann Quartet with Theo Bleckmann’s A Clear Midnight

4th December 2015

Title: A Clear Midnight

Label: ECM

The project came together at the instigation of the Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau in 2013, being recorded in the studio in Oslo in June 2014. It is the first time that the Quartet and Bleckmann have worked together.

The work of Kurt Weill is rightly placed within the canon of the classics of popular song. Tracks such as Mack the Knife, September Song and Speak Low have been covered by a variety of top vocalists who have all brought their own style and interpretation to the Weill catalogue. The Julia Hulsmann Quartet takes these very familiar songs and places a jazz treatment upon each with the help of vocalist, Theo Bleckmann, who brings a considered appreciation to Mac The Knife with the intriguing addition of Tom Arthurs of trumpet/flugelhorn, giving the impression that he is acting as a supporting vocal.

For those expecting A Sinatra-esque take on Speak Low, you’ll be in for a surprise as Bleckmann has a drifting, ranging quality to his delivery. When he sings about ‘ships adrift’ his voice is drawn out and extended so that you really do feel that this man is emotionally cast asunder, drifting lonely and helpless. The Arthurs brass work is there again, giving the vocal a disconnected aspect.

September Song again should, by Hollywood/Tin Pan Alley rights, be a structured, solid story song but the Hulsmann piano takes care of that right from the off with a partnering, rather unsettling, dissonant quality that talks of turmoil and a slightly unhinged approach.

It’s great to hear some of Weill’s lesser known works given the jazz treatment here too. This is New is, well, new…to me, at least. Beckmann gives this song a 30s, rather lost Marlene Deitrech treatment which is both arresting and slightly amusing.

The entire project is crafted with care and attention but don’t think that this is Weill by numbers or that there is a lack of freedom or spontaneity on the album. What we have here is an open and airy interpretation of well trodden ground that adds a new dimension to the familiar.