Tobias Meinhart - Berlin People

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019

Personnel - Tobias Meinhart: saxophone; Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar; Ludwig Hornung: piano; Tom Berkmann: bass; Mathias Ruppnig: drums.

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On his new outing, New York-based saxophonist Tobias Meinhart pays tribute to his German roots at the same time that shows an ardent passion for New York. In order to do that, he put together a group based in Berlin, whose lineup includes the illustrious American guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, now a mainstay of that European city’s music scene. With the guitarist functioning more like a featured soloist, the quintet presents a rhythm section composed of pianist Ludwig Hornung, bassist Tom Berkmann, and drummer Mathias Ruppnig.

The opener, “Mount Meru”, is highly expressive, promoting relaxation while progressing at a confident 6/8 tempo. Contributing an exciting solo, Rosenwinkel has a magnificent first intervention, showing full command of the guitar. His phrasing is bright and his sound dazzling. Meinhart succeeds him, drawing melodic paths that involve emotions, and a transitory chorus serves as a vehicle for percussive dilatations, anticipating the repositioning of the main theme.

The bandleader’s deep fondness of swing is shared on tunes like “It’s Not So Easy”, a current layout projected with the force of bop; “Berlin People”, a showcase for a hard-hitting saxophone; “Alfred”, which features a well-articulate piano solo and is dedicated to Meinhart’s late grandfather, a classically trained bassist; and “Serenity”, a Joe Henderson original, here suffused with blistering intensity and typically structured with theme / solos (sax, guitar, piano, bass) / four-bar trades with drummer / theme.

Hornung contributes “Fruher War Alles Besser”, a suave ballad where he echoes some of the melodies brought upfront by the bassist. However, it was another balladic effort that captivated me the most: Meinhart’s “Childhood”. Assembled with major triads and displaying a special affection for melody, the piece has Rosenwinkel finishing alone and in great style.

If “Malala” is an unhurried post-bop ride inspired by the Pakistani activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, “Be Free” is nothing more than a short improvisation whose undercurrents I wished were further explored.

The tracks on Berlin People, despite compositionally strong, don’t reveal many shifts internally, living mostly from the power of the improvisations. However, the album marks a solid step in Meinhart’s evolution as a recording artist.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Mount Meru ► 07 - Childhood ► 08 - Berlin People