TIMO VOLLBRECHT

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IN THE END MUSIC IS THE EXPRESSION OF HUMAN SPIRIT AND HUMAN SOUL

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Timo Vollbrecht
saxophone, clarinet
Keisuke Matsuno guitar
Sam Anning bass
Jason Burger drums
Chris Dingman vibraphone

The only professional musician in his family, Timo Vollbrecht was nonetheless surrounded by music from early on. “My grandfather is a passionate music lover with an old Steinway piano. My father was into Jazz and classical music, my Mom was into dance, especially ballet. It was just an artsy environment. My father gave me a toy saxophone as a kid and I would pretend to play with the records. At some point I wanted a real one.”

Timo grew up in Stadthagen, a small town near Hanover, Germany. “There was nothing really going on, except we had a very dedicated music teacher at school. There was a big band in high school and I desperately wanted to play in it. I got introduced to Jazz through that, and now that I was a saxophone player, I needed to buy Jazz records. I went to the local CD shop and picked one CD where there was a saxophone on it and it was a really good catch because it was a Sonny Rollins record.” 

Then, listening to Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, Timo Vollbrecht explains that, “…a lot of influences swirled around me. Nowadays, I’m very influenced by my mates, my friends. People that I play music with. I love Mark Turner, who I studied with, Stefon Harris, vibraphone player and people outside of Jazz, like Radiohead.” The result is a dynamic fusion, rooted in Jazz, but with elements of  post-rock, indie-rock, minimalism and classical music.

The eclectic mix is beautifully portrayed on this CD. Timo wrote most of the pieces himself. “I was waiting. I took my time to make my first record as a bandleader. You know how a lot of people, especially when they are younger, feel obliged to get a record out. The music evolved and developed over years. I played a long tour in Latin America, which really helped shape the music. The tunes are all very different. On the one hand, I hope there is a unifying factor, but every piece is a world on its own. It’s like painting a picture. This piece has this colour, this line, this groove, this story."

FACES IN PLACES (2018)


You can appreciate Timo Vollbrecht’s new CD Faces in Places without the background stories. With them, his great music turns into a profound experience. Timo Vollbrecht on saxophone combines with Keisuke Matsuno on guitar, Elias Stemeseder on piano and synthesizers, Martin Nevin on bass and Jason Burger on drums. The ensemble that goes by the name Fly Magic has produced a fluid, intricate and original body of work.

“Each track is inspired by or dedicated to someone that I’ve encountered,” explains Timo. “In the last years the band has toured worldwide. Everywhere we kept running into these amazing people who one way or another touched our souls. I came back from these trips and was inspired to write music about them. The first thematic song was the piece Muhammad.” After a concert in Aleppo, Syria in 2010, Timo took an early morning walk through the streets as people were opening up shop and promptly got lost. He turned to a friendly looking man, Muhammad, who immediately stopped work. “He gave up an hour of his time,” remembers Timo, “not only to guide me back on track but to show me around the city. I wrote the piece for him and tried to incorporate his pride and dignity into the melody. We never exchanged contact information. Ever since the terrible bombings, I’ve been wondering what became of him.”

Espacio was written for the Cambodian flautist, Dorivan, with whom the band collaborated on a project in Phnom Penh. “This song is dedicated to him and the genuine artistry that he expresses on an ancient Cambodian bamboo flute called the khloy,” says Timo. It is also reminiscent of the slow and elegant movements of Khmer dancers, while describing “the eternal emptiness felt after visiting the genocide museum in the Cambodian capital.”
Tiffany was inspired by “a dear friend from Singapore who came to our concert at the Sing Jazz Club and took us on a stroll through the bustling, colourful and intense city.”

Based in New York City, Timo wrote Schaumburg for his hometown in Germany. “The song is a tribute to both the alleviating feeling of returning home and the sense of longing for it.”

During a South American tour the band spent some time in Chile. “We were accommodated by Francisco, a warm-hearted, ebullient gentleman in love with music. He took us to his roof top where we played music all night long – despite the neighbours' discontent.” The track is titled Valparaíso, the city where this took place.

During a tour of Malaysia the musicians met Mala, a proud young Muslim woman from Kuala Lumpur who decided to live life her own way. They met at the moment when Mala decided to stop wearing her hijab despite societal pressure. The piece Mala’s World is “for all women who have the courage to advocate for themselves in a patriarchal world while embracing religious freedom and empathizing with multiple viewpoints.”

Timo Vollbrecht argues that this is not political music, rather a very powerful, positive tool. “The band,” he explains, “especially on tour often discusses world affairs: the rise of nationalist thinking, President Trump, the AfD in Germany, what’s happening in Austria now. These developments are very worrisome. One of the big opportunities you have with music is to make people sensitive to theperspectives of others.”

The musicians in the quintet are close, on and off-stage. “We are all part of a jazz community that is supportive and inspiring,” says Timo. Keisuke Matsuno is his long-term collaborator; a guitar sound wizard who creates swirling ethereal sounds. Elias Stemeseder is a unique and very sensitive “superstar” improviser on piano and synthesizers, who constantly surprises with his musical ideas.

Martin Nevin, one of the most sought after bassists in New York City, plays with a warm, woody intricate feel. Jason Burger is a versatile drummer with an exciting, inventive groove. Timo Vollbrecht, together with his ensemble, is a rising star. “I only label our music when I’m asked to,” he says, though when pressed regards it as fusing, “elements from jazz, avant-garde, post- and indie rock, folk, contemporary classical music and noise, altogether creating otherworldly soundscapes.”

"Through this confluence of influences Timo Vollbrecht has created a musical story that transcends the limitations of musical genre,” writes Stefon Harris, the great jazz vibraphonist. The saxophonist himself has enjoyed highly complementary press reviews. Hot House Jazz Guide describes him as a “remarkable talent”. To NDR he is “a true discovery”. The eagerly awaited new album does not disappoint.


FLY MAGIC (2016)


"… Pretty Now is definitely influenced by minimalism. I was looking to Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and John Hollenbeck, who was a teacher of mine in Berlin. Slothchops is so called because in our society today everybody tries to be faster and better and stronger, especially in the Jazz scene. That’s not really what the essence of it is or can be. The sloth is a fascinating animal, because it does everything the other way around. Its weapon is to chill, and if there’s danger, it just doesn’t move… we thought if somebody has deep musical meaning, a true soul, we said – this guy’s a slothchop. The tune Paco was inspired by the Flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía. I lived in Barcelona, Spain for a while and I played with some Flamenco cats down there. It was a great experience. Truffles, that’s inspired by my grandfather who is a confectioner.”

Timo Vollbrecht’s compositions are a framework for spontaneous exploration. He gives freedom to his fellow musicians to be creative and says that’s when the magic can really start to happen.   

Keisuke Matsuno, on guitar, was born in Berlin and grew up in Germany, though his parents are Japanese. He nows lives in Brooklyn. Timo describes Keisuke, his best friend and artistic collaborator, as, “… a magician when it comes to sound, because he is a sound artist, very good at laying out soundscapes.”

Sam Anning, bassist, comes from Australia. “He came to New York the same year I did,” says Timo. “and we met here. The reason I love him so much as a bass player, is because he has such great taste. He is very strong on the one hand, but on the other very gentle. He is delicate. He’s a great dude.”

Jason Burger on drums is the youngest and shows great energy. Timo describes him as an enfant terrible with great taste and a really nice feel and balance. “One of the things that’s very important to me,” he explains, “is to have people in the band I can connect with on a personal level as well, I think that is really important for making music, because in the end it is the expression of human spirit and human soul. And you do that with other people.”

Apart from New York, the quartet has played in Berlin, toured Panama, Haiti, and Dominican Republic, and performed in Australia and Singapore. Timo remembers one striking moment of improvisation in Palestine; during a tour of the Middle East. “I was playing on a roof top in Ramallah. There was a mosque right next to the building. While we were playing the Muezzin started chanting and it was the same time as we were doing some free improv. We played with the chant and integrated it into what we were doing. It was one of the most magical experiences I’ve had in music.”

Timo Vollbrecht takes his audience seriously. He thinks that not all musicians do. “You’re sharing the human soul. It might sound a little esoteric, but the audience plays a big part in the musical experience. It’s a give and take and even if it sometimes seems that they are passive, they’re not really. They feel alive; that’s really magical. I try to play one song for each member of the audience. Even if it’s only one song they really can connect with, they come out having a truly valuable experience. It’s more than entertainment. Entertainment’s great, but it’s really – honesty somehow. So with the music I put ourselves out there, the way we are. As soon as you fake things, you lose it.”

The diversity of New York has been particularly inspiring for the saxophonist. “It keeps you on your toes.” He finds Berlin rather slow paced but also with a very creative and powerful music scene. He sees himself very much as a Berlin musician with his roots in its musical scene, though he feels very European rather than German. Still, Timo’s confectioner grandfather from Stadthagen maintains the link by sending him truffles wherever in the world his grandson happens to be.