RT 9342 (2011)


Hertenstein / Heberer / Badenhorst / Niggenkemper


Joe Hertenstein– drums
Thomas Heberer – trumpets
Joachim Badenhorst – bass clarinet
Pascal Niggenkemper – bass

1. Polylemma 3:56
2. Garden 6:11
3. Sugar’s Dilemma 5:16
4. Stratigraphy 6:12
5. One Ocean at a Time 6:02
6. Crespect 6:09
7. Banners n’ Bubbles 8:07
8. Nupeez 3:59

1, 3, 6 and 8 by Joe Hertenstein; 2, 4, 5 and 7 by Thomas Heberer

Recorded in New York City, February 2010



Photograph: Julie Brisson

Painting: Joe Hertenstein


What a funny, complex, unusual and neat sounding word. Fantastic and worrying: POLYLEMMA. What better word to describe the nature of our work?

Improvising music, organizing sound, making time and emotions audible; losing sleep over the many conceptual possibilities of bringing musical ideas to paper, and finding ways to communicate those you just can’t write down; leaving it up to your bandmates to find the answers for you. Like Philippe Petit, who danced on a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center, cats are dancing between composition and improvisation.

Sharing compositional credits with Thomas already resulted in my 2010 debut album as a leader and composer on Clean Feed Records—a trio with Thomas and Pascal called HNH. Since the bass clarinet has always been one of my favourite instruments, I envisioned the extension of HNH as a quartet. The first time I heard Joachim at a club in Brooklyn, I knew I wanted to play music with him. When he told me he had already worked with Thomas and Pascal in other formations, I immediately invited him to a session. The repertoire developed so quickly that I took the band into the studio within a couple of months. We recorded live to 2-track, all in one room standing very close to each other. We recorded alternate takes for only two tunes—no mixing, one edit.

I’m very grateful to have found Thomas, Joachim, and Pascal to play this music with, and I admire their sensitivity, dedication, and artistry. We cover a lot of ground on this album. Tracks 1, 3, 6, and 8 are my compositions. The opening track, Polylemma, which is framed by rubato elements, deals with a slow 5/4 swing meter and an ostinato bass line. Sugar’s Dilemma, in which the music is designed for the players to complete and complement each other’s phrases, leads into a quintuplet-swing feel, which builds up and dissolves into an open sound cadenza. Crespect (dedicated to the NYPD) explores the alternating, seamless ways in and out of atonally written and freely improvised sections based on a 9/8 meter concept. And Nupeez, which was inspired by a 12-tone row, developed into a thrilling up-tempo free jazz vehicle. Check out Pascal’s bass solo!

These pieces alternate with Thomas’ compositions, tracks 2, 4, 5, and 7: Garden, the quietest drum feature I ever had the pleasure to solo on, examines musical cues that delimit sections to leave space for those beautiful intervals. One Ocean at a Time is an energetic feature for drums and bass bridged by three short and intense themes. Stratigraphy and Banners n’ Bubbles work with a graphic notation language (developed by Thomas) to stimulate musical interaction in the most imaginative ways.

The unusual combination of bass clarinet and trumpet in this quartet setting is what I wanted to suss out. And the way Joachim’s sound blends with Thomas’ and how their playing carries each other’s playing through the landscapes thrills me every time they phrase and improvise together. Having played music with Pascal for more than ten years now, he was not only the old friend and great musician he has always been, but was also the multidimensional artist who continues to surprise me and challenge my own playing and writing every time we get together.

What you are holding in your hands is the result of a new collaboration, a new sound of European quartet improvisation, developed in New York City—the debut recording of POLYLEMMA…

...which means: a choice from multiple options,
each of which is (or appears) equally (un-) acceptable or (un-) favourable.

Confronting this polylemma—this wall of options—and making these choices was and continues to be a joyful, liberating, and highly rewarding experience; it’s a never-ending story and may serve as a lodestar to guide you towards self-expression.

Joe Hertenstein, Brooklyn, 04/2011



Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

All four musicians here should be familiar to you as each has been on various discs over the past few years. ICP trumpeter, Thomas Heberer has remained busy since moving to NY a couple of years ago with discs on JazzWerkStatt and a new solo LP on NoBusiness. Three of these men are in a trio called HNH who have a fine disc out on Clean Feed. Mr. Badenhorst also lives here some of the time and has appeared on a dozen discs of the past few years with Han Bennink, Equilibrium, Mogil & Red Rocket. Bassist, Pascal Niggenkemper, has two fine trio discs out on Konnex & JazzHausMusiik.

Drummer, Joe Hertenstein produced, wrote the liner notes & half of the songs and led this session. On the title track, the trumpet and clarinet swerve around one another in sublime circles while the bass & drums create circular rhythms underneath. The restraint and skeletal playing give the trumpet and bass clarinet a chance to breathe and slowly weave their lines with subtle results. "Sugar's
Dilemma" has a playful, dreamy vibe until Joachim takes a thoughtful, slow-burning bass clarinet solo and Thomas plays mysterious long notes in the distance. On "Stratigraphy" Joachim plays those talkative notes on his bass clarinet while the trumpet and bowed bass shadow one another closely. The quartet provide different strategies on each piece, while different combinations of players and assorted techniques bring things together into a connected series. Hertenstein's superb drums spin quickly and effortlessly on "One Ocean at a Time", providing the glue that holds this complex, ever-shifting piece together. Even at just 46 minutes, this disc is completely successful, ultimately crafty and often surprsing in direction throughout.



Glenn Astarita , All About Jazz

German drummer Joe Hertenstein currently resides in Brooklyn, NY, where he ingratiates his wares into the pulsating jazz-improvisation climate. His trio HNH, featuring quarter-tone trumpet ace Thomas Heberer and drummer Pascal Niggenkemper, receives a shrewdly devised uplift with the addition of bass clarinetist Joachim Badenhorst on Polylemma; a term that indicates a difficult predicament. Keeping in line with the title, the band executes a fluent sequence of decision-making processes throughout the program. It's an open-world montage of semi-structured themes and a barrage of contrasting abstracts.

The bass clarinet and trumpet alignment casts a contrapuntal, yet festive alignment of tonal swashes and polyrhythmic story lines, nailed down by the leader's multidimensional accompaniment. Rugged, smooth and sprightly, the quartet abides by a pliant mode of operations. The musicians incorporate bluesy fabrics, free expressionism and microtonal components while upping the ante and delving into geometrically inclined phrasings.

The band works through an aggregation of predicaments and problem-solving occurrences on "Stratigraphy," where odd-metered pulses and subtle hues profess a changeable atmosphere. However, the instrumentalists denounce congestion and clutter by navigating through a cogent course, fused into variable theme-building efforts.

At times sparse and roomy, these works signify a hub of cleverly enacted plot conversions. It's an agile unit that can transcend stately themes into loosely organized dialogues with regenerative plot developments. And the soloists' focused interactions intimate a highly artistic game plan that supersedes the tried and true, especially when considering the freer aspects of jazz. In effect, Polylemma makes perfect sense as the musicians unravel all the possibilities and seize numerous opportunities.

All About Jazz


Stef Gijssels , Free Jazz ****½

The album's title "Polylemma" means : "a choice from multiple options, each of which is (or appears) equally (un-)acceptable or (un-)favorable". And this is basically what you get, but with staggering result. Half the tracks are penned by Heberer, also in his Cookbook notation, the other half by Hertenstein, who is the leader of this band.

It is interesting to hear the same "Clarino" trio with the addition of drums, but it is not the same music plus a drummer. Yes, for sure, there are similarities, but this is music largely led by a drummer, and you can sense that immediately, in the steady pulse of the opening track, the references to old swing jazz, the sweet theme of "Sugar's Dilemma" turning into a real violent fight, a peak of volume that is absent on the trio album, or the last track "Nupeez", with its boppish bass line and crazy soloing. Also Heberer's compositions are tighter than on "Klippe", with unison lines, as on the clever "One Ocean At A Time", in which the rhythm section gets the dominant role, interrupted by sudden and changing themes.

It is obvious that a lot of thought went into these songs, lots of weighing of alternatives and possibilities, of selecting and discarding as its title suggests, yet the end result sounds nothing like a cerebral exercise, because of its incredible sense of spontaneity and musical joy that reverberates with every note. These guys are really fantastic!

Free Jazz


Stephen Griffith, ParisTransatlantic

Each time a Red Toucan comes out it's a cause for celebration, but recent releases have been lacking in the playfulness which initially drew me to Andrew Drury's wonderful (and alas out of print) Polish Theater Posters. It's not that I need a reincarnation of Willem Breuker or another Respect Sextet from the Montreal label, but some relief from the relentlessly dour, albeit well conceived and performed, run of recent releases on the label was badly needed.

Polylemma, according to the liners (but not the OED) means "a choice from multiple options, each of which is (or appears) equally (un-) acceptable or (un-) favourable." That sounds like a reasonable credo for a group made by adding bass clarinettist Joachim Badenhorst to the trio responsible for Clean Feed's 2010 release HNH with Joe Hertenstein on drums, Pascal Niggenkemper on bass and longtime ICP member Thomas Heberer on trumpet. The title cut gets things off to a nice start with a loping 5/4 beat: Heberer's initial growls grow plaintive after Badenhorst joins the fray, and they alternate playing off each other with bluesy uniform lines. Heberer's "Garden" follows, featuring lots of long-toned sequences by the trumpet over and under which bass clarinet and drums skitter quietly but energetically. "Sugar's Dilemma" swings along nicely until Badenhorst grabs the reins with a slippery careening solo reminiscent of Carlos Actis Dato, which gradually gets pulled back for an abrupt restatement of the theme.

As with the excellent Die Enttäuschung (featuring Rudi Mahall and Axel Dörner) the combination of bass clarinet and trumpet gives an unusual flavour to this quartet setting, and the group makes good use of the instruments' tonal contrast on Heberer's "One Ocean at a Time". This starts out like an updated version of "India", but rather than serving as a modal stage for horn explorations, it makes room for drum and bass solos amidst shifting motifs before ending on a surprisingly optimistic theme. My fears for the future of the label were entirely ungrounded.




(Free) Jazz Alchemist

According to wiktionary polylemma is:

A circumstance in which a choice must be made between multiple options that seem equally undesirable. Which is a surprising way to describe the process of improvisation. After all, in the lack of objective evaluation process being equally favourable is the same as equally unfavourable as no choice brings any real qualificative change. Or does it.

Anyway if you're looking for modern jazz with carefully crafted compositions and free immagination twist to it this cd is not really a dilemma. Speaking of which there's "Sugar's Dilemma" brings the classy swing and noble bass clarinet tone on full display with its unhurried melodic and timbral intensity. "Stratigraphy" is a game of playfully layered and interlined lines (intriguing contrast between legato trumpet line, staccato clarinet taps), ends with subtly suspended long tones. "Garden" is a peacefull, gentle walk featuring some of the most delicate percussive commentaries to a melodic intervalic cued lines of the horn section. "One Ocean at a time" is another feature for some beatifully polyrhythmic and melodic drumming, followed by bass and Pascal's tone is just such a pleasure to hear, deep and strong yet so light, just flowing with the bowed notes over and then flying with the energetically struck strings. There's great understanding within the band, no showing off but just playing togethert, without forcing anything being forced or stretched of far-fetched. The cd ends with the strong free-jazz pulse of the "Nuupeez" and you'd be hard put to find a piece so evidently in its harmonic structures yet so accessible with its melodic lines of trumpet-cliarinet exchanges. The quartet steer of the dissonant and dynamic extremist in the favour of more focused expressions.

While the light-handed and subtle rhythm section puts the music deeply rooted in the jazz tradition the melodies are somewhat more european-oriented which proves for an effective mix. And it's a pure pleasure to enjoy their way with the instruments (no need to introduce these musicians I hope). This is a band of perfectly combined and balanced four elements, deceivingly simple and basic. And within this modesty there's pretty much to hang your ear on.
According to the theory of communication the more effort is input into the creation of the message the less will be needed to perceive it, consequently the less effort one puts into the act of communication, the more easily it comes the more difficult it will be to read. The uncommon clarity to the band's sound and direction, is only a proof of artistic effort is put into the act of creation, into the constant way of choosing between "udesirable" options. For fans of modern jazz this should be a very much so "desirable" and enjoyable listen.

(Free) Jazz Alchemist