bio | concerts | groups | cd's | presskit | press | fotos | mp3 / video | contact | links

Reviews: Nordzucker: 500 gr

Birgit Ulher: trumpet
Lars Scherzberg: saxophone
Michael Maierhof: cello

Creative Sources

Touching Extremes

Recorded live in Berlin, this is a trumpet/sax/cello trio moving along the coordinates of classic reduction but with a little more margin for the convergence of silence and big splinters of what often sounds like contemporary chamber music, with some old Art Zoyd improvisational flavour. Feeding their explorative needs, the musicians operate their machines like if they were throwing stones in a pool at regular intervals, then stopping to observe the ripples generated, finally throwing more objects to change those (ir)regular geometries. There is no apparent friction among the instrumental voices, with Maierhof's cello contributing to the general temperament with touches of resonant wood, in a nice amalgam with the more introverted reciprocal responsiveness between the different air currents by Uhler's trumpet and Scherzberg's sax, which seem to accept the third of a perfect pair without any defensiveness. This three-legged animal walks around at its own peculiar pace, finally arriving right there where it's needed.

Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes

Paris Transatlantic

After a couple of recent jousts with electronics (in the form of Gino Robair's "voltage made audible" on Sputter and Lou Mallozzi's turntables on Landscape: Recognisable), 500 gr finds trumpeter Birgit Ulher back in the company of "traditional" instruments: saxophone (Lars Scherzberg) and cello (Michael Maierhof). Though of course they certainly don't sound traditional: all three players reveal great familiarity with extended techniques on their respective instruments, and, more impressive still, leave each other space to explore them. This is not so much a return to the austere Berlin Reductionism ca. 2001/2 – there are very few silences of more than a couple of seconds – as much as a look further back into the history of German music: the pristine clarity of Webern, the spiky pointillism of Stockhausen's Kontra-punkte and the extreme compression of Mathias Spahlinger (think the Vier Stücke). It's a terse, closely argued music, angular and intense without being expressionistic. And certainly not sweet either, despite the giant sugarcubes on the album cover.

Dan Warburton,

IMPROJAZZ 122 (Février 2006)

Dans cette fuite en avant / percée créative des trompettistes radicaux se distingue particulièrement Birgit Ulher, une improvisatrice hambourgeoise très impliquée sur la scène de la musique improvisée en Alemagne. Ces troisdisques en suivent déjà deux autres publiés par Creative Sources: Tidszon par le groupe UNSK (Ulher, Norelius, Strid, Küchen) et son duo avec la vocaliste Ute Wassermann.

Birgit Ulher n'adhère pas vraiment à la tabula rasa radicale des Axel Dörner, Masafumi Ezaki, Ruth Barberan et compagnies dont Creative Sources se fait l´écho, si écho il y a, entendu que cela souffle «à l'intérieur»... Elle pousse le plus loin possible la tradition de l'instrument et de l'articulation des notes et des timbres dans leurs derniers retranchements. Au-delà des Bill Dixon, Leo Smith, Marc Charig, Lester Bowie et Toshinori Kondo, mais toujours dans la trajectoire créée par ces formidables improvisateurs (et compositeurs!) de la trompette.

Vous prendrez bien 500 gr de Nordzucker, un remarquable trio trompette, sax alto, violoncelle qui fait éclater la théorie du trio tout comme le fit Ernesto Rodrigues, violoniste responsable de CS, avec Manuel Mota et Gabriel Paiuk dans Dorsal. Birgit Ulher a entrepris une démarche radicale sans idées toutes faites. Sa musique, en supposant que le contenu de ces trois disques intrigants soit enregistré et édité à son initiative, semble suivre le cours dicté par son expérience pratique et son parcours très personnel, plutôt que résulter de la conjonction d'états d'âme et de tendances affichées un peu partout. En cela, elle rejoint l'état d'esprit de son hôte, Ernesto Rodrigues à qui nous devons les publications de Creative Sources.

Jean-Michel van Schouwburg, Improjazz

Bad Alchemy

Der schmale Demarkationsstreifen zwischen Komposition und Improvisation ist längst ein wild wucherndes Biotop, das mit wachsender Dichte synergetisch immer virulenter wird. Wobei meist die Improvisation das befruchtende Element einbringt, das Sandkorn im Getriebe, das sich zur Perle auswächst. Beim Hamburger Trio NORDZUCKER und seinem Debut 500gr (cs 052) geht es scheinbar um saccharinhaltige Körnchen. Der Feinsinn der Trompeterin Birgit Ulher (*1961, Nürnberg) hat schon mit UNSK (Tidszon, cs 014), im Trio mit Lou Malozzi & Michael Zerang (Landscape: recognizable, cs 037) und in ihren Duos mit Ute Wassermann (Kunststoff, cs017) und Gino Robair (Sputter, cs 042) den Nerv der Lissabonner Labelmacher getroffen. Im Treffen mit dem Saxophonisten Lars Scherzberg (*1972, Hamburg), der aus der Improschule von Wolfgang Fuchs und Torsten Müller herausgewachsen ist, und dem Cellisten Michael Meierhof (*1956, Fulda), der sein Renommee einer langen Reihe von multimedialen, elektroakustischen, kammermusikalischen und orchestralen Kompositionen verdankt, geht dieser Feinsinn so weit, dass neben den Klangmolekülen auch die Zeitpartikel und die Löcher im Klanggewebe mit der Briefwaage dosiert werden. In 9 minutiös austarierten Geräuschmixturen setzen die Drei ihre Instrumente auf eine Weise ein, die in der Post-Incus‘schen europäischen Improtradition tatsächlich längst eine Tradition geworden ist, während in der akademischen ‚Musica Nova‘ allenfalls Lachenmanns Bruitismus sich auf sie zu bewegt. 500g würde auf dem ECLAT in Stuttgart oder dem UltraSchall in Berlin repräsentativ für eine Ästhetik stehen können, die sich Beckett als ihren Schutzheiligen erkoren hat und Adorno darin zu folgen bereit scheint, dass „Dissonanz ... die Wahrheit über Harmonie“ ist, dass Kunst dem Fremden und Heterogenen Gerechtigkeit widerfahren lassen muss und „ästhetische Spiritualität ... von je her mit dem >Fauve<, dem Wilden besser sich vertragen (hat) als mit dem kulturell Okkupierten.“

Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy #50

Signal to Noise

Without electronics, Ulher's trio with saxophonist Lars Scherzberg and cellist Michael Maierhof can't so easily dissolve into singularity. It`s a more abrupt piece of work than the duo with Robair, but still one built from a shared sensibility. So much so, in fact, that it's a tricky game to discern who's playing what within the field of quickly passing sounds, and all three have a nice sense for leaving silence in the room. A sound can seem particularly trumpet-like, but then is interrupted by something more trumpet-like, and so perhaps it was bowed cymbal but since there's no drummer must have been sax. Such confusion reinforces their commonalities, but isn't really the point. Rather, what they're doing is presenting a singular concept, one which will reward patient and repeated listening.

Kurt Gottschalk, Signal to Noise #41

The Wire

Birgit Ulher 'Scatter' & Nordzucker '500gr'

This is territory that compatriot Axel Dörner has already explored: solo trumpet playing so ruthlessly non-idiomatic that it sounds like a different instrument entirely. Ulher`s spectrum of toneless breath noises, soft valve pops and chuckling meta-bop flurries calls for close and evenly suspended attention. There is an evolving logic to these mostly short pieces. Only the midpoint "Possibilities" seems slightly flabby and lacking the elemental directness of the other cuts. The Nordzucker trio date reinforces the analogy with Dörner even more strongly, with cellist Michael Maierhof and saxofonist Lars Scherzberg adding growly overtones and bright squinks of reed noise.

The Wire #267 May 2006

Birgit Ulher/Damon Smith/Martin Blume
Sperrgut/ Balance point bpa009
Birgit Ulher/Lars Scherzberg/Michael Maierhof
Nordzucker / Creative Sources CS 052

Hamburg-based trumpeter Birgit Ulher never misses an opportunity to challenge herself with new improvisational partners – even if she has to leave the country to do so. Take these memorable CDs. Although both are nine-track discs showcasing the trumpet’s reductionist style in a trio setting, the similarities end there.

Recorded in Oakland, Calif. in October 2004, Sperrgut finds Ulher in the company of local bassist Damon Smith and percussionist Martin Blume from Bochum, Germany. The drummer of course, is an old hand at kind of stop-and-go improvisation, with partners like British violinist Philipp Wachsmann, while Smith has extended his interactions past the Bay area to play with Europeans such as German reedist Frank Gratkowski and Wolfgang Fuchs.

Five months later, Nordzucker Ulher is in Berlin with two countrymen. There’s cellist Michael Maierhof, another Hamburg resident, who usually composes spatial music, and Berlin-based alto saxophonist Lars Scherzberg, who not only plays with Europeans like Italian pianist Alberto Braida and Fuchs, but has a long-time affiliation with Brooklyn-based drummer Jeff Arnal.

With both CDs slotted firmly in a minimalist grove, it’s hard to choose one over the other. Nordzucker may have a slight edge however, since as a semi-working group, the players are much more familiar with one another. During the course of the related tracks they’re able to expose this-side-of-inaudible timbres as well as sudden voluble trills.

Nowhere on either of the discs is there an attempt to set up a soloist-rhythm section hierarchy, with Maierhof and Smith contributing as many percussive impulses as Blume’s drum kit. While Blume’s polyrhythmic showing includes motifs that directly relate to Kenny Clarke’s Bop cymbal pulses, he’d much rather draw a drum stick across his ride cymbal or detach it to let it vibrate in the air. Concurrently he ranges all over his kit, highlighting flams and ruffs from his snares and toms, leaning into dark pounding from his bass drum, scattering bounces and rebounds, and ringing small bells.

For his part Smith’s output includes blunt string pummeling and slapped staccato lines, as well as wooden thumps and bumps. There are extended shuffle bowing passages in the bull fiddle’s lowest register and sul tasto squeaks that replicate Ulher’s valve straining.

Never brassy, her collection of tubes, bell and valve maneuvering is less than understated, consisting in the main of spittle-engorged bubbling, chromatic tongue- stopping, rubato spetrofluctuation, throat growls and shakes. Midway through the CD, it sounds as if she’s whispering crabby nonsense syllables straight through her bell. Infrequently underemphasized wah wahs and tongue pops arise, making it seem as if she’s creating like an uneasy alliance between the style of Don Cherry and a military bugler’s mess call – although the bulk of her output is linear.

This horizontal improvising carries on to the other disc, with Scherzberg’s saxophone using body tube resonation and tongue slaps to meet Ulher’s contrapuntal twitters part way. When sul ponticello sweeps from Maierhof’s cello joins, it’s almost as if the timbres from all three are arising from one organism.

Role transference is rife here as well. Commonly the cellist’s spiccato pops and grainy percussive slaps serve as the pedal-point fulcrum on which the horns’ improvisations balance. Yet one variation finds the trumpeter expelling a pitch that resembles and almost replicates percussion. Glottal punctuation from the saxophonist sporadically performs the same function.

Nestled among the prolonged silences is an acknowledgement that polyphonic flanges created by the horns come from metallic instruments. This cumulative friction binds the rubato slaps, pops and spits into heavy pressured reverberations. This sibilant power is one of the few aural entities that sets Sperrgut apart from Nordzucker. As examples of exploratory modern improvisation, however, both deserve attention.

Ken Waxman,

< back