Givers & Takers

Timo Vollbrecht

Timo Vollbrecht and his quartet FLY MAGIC’s new album Givers & Takers is released by BERTHOLD records on October 21, 2022. The line up: Timo Vollbrecht – sax // Keisuke Matsuno – guitar // Elias Stemeseder – piano & synths // Dayeon Seok – drums.

FLY MAGIC is saxophonist Timo Vollbrecht’s longstanding signature ensemble. A genre-exploding unit with a bold sense of creativity and intent. Following two highly acclaimed releases (Fly Magic, 2016 / Faces in Places, 2018), Givers & Takers marks the band’s next chapter. Recorded while on tour, it captures the chemistry that the four musicians developed on the road, presenting a new vision that expands on the sonic path Vollbrecht has been refining for over a decade.

By effortlessly layering acoustic and electronic timbres, Givers & Takers (also the title of one of the tracks) presents a music that is unpretentious and adventurous. The title refers to two aspects of Vollbrecht’s thoughts on music: “Music is first and foremost a social praxis,” he explains, “it is about community, a web of people who share experiences and inspire one another to innovate. We are trained to treat the intrinsic properties like melody, harmony, and rhythm isolated from their context. Thereby we forget that the things around them – social setting, connectivity, and emotions – are just as much part of the music’s fabric.” The album emerges from this human interactivity. It features four musically synergetic friends of diverse backgrounds entering into an improvisational dialogue marked by mutual trust. Giving and Taking is a natural part of this process.

A second aspect is community of place – Brooklyn, New York, where the saxophonist spends much of his time. “Givers & Takers is also a bar where we often hang out,” he says. “It is emblematic of what it means for us to be part of a ’scene.‘ When we then disperse in all directions, we maintain an ongoing exchange between the various communities.” Other tracks also relate directly to Brooklyn: Brighton Blues refers to Brighton Beach and highlights the artists‘ approach to fresh ideas in connection to their tradition-informed identity. “I’ve never dared to write a blues,” Vollbrecht admits. “I have so much respect for that form and the weight of the great masters in this lineage.” Midwood is a deeply personal and introspective piece, named after the street where he met his wife. Art is Live is a suite that borrows its name from a concert series set up locally by friends to keep the jazz community alive during the pandemic. Three movements express the experience amidst an uncertain future: I. Solidarity, II. Solitude, and III. Agency, with the latter being a nod to the roaring Black Lives Matter movement and music as a force for change. Glitter in the Sky – a celestial tone poem – goes far beyond Brooklyn: “When I compose, I look for different compositional starting points. Using the software Ableton Live, I found a high-pitched glitter effect that created this ethereal openness that I wanted to bring to FLY MAGIC.” Vollbrecht loves to compose with a hue of melancholy, but Happy Happy is “my intent to write a happy tune, with bright harmony and a dazzling pulse that is juxtaposed with destructive elements to make for an epic ending.” In contrast, the opening Pau (the album’s first single release) is beautiful and melodic, and is the name of his first child. “Here, our playing is tender. Four independent voices mould this constantly evolving, interactive piece with a rubato tempo and a good vibe.” Finally, Move and Your Body are two episodes that derive from Vollbrecht’s previous work with dance. Their pace and groove highlight the inextricable link between music and movement.

This is the first album that Vollbrecht recorded without a bassist. Instead, “Elias Stemeseder plays synthesizer-bass with one hand whilst the other is operating the piano or electronics,” the saxophonist explains. Stemeseder, who moves between New York and Berlin, won the German Jazz Award for his work with the band PHILM and held a prestigious residency at John Zorn’s iconic Manhattan venue The Stone. “At other times, Keisuke Matsuno takes charge of the low frequencies on his guitar using an octaver-pedal,” says Vollbrecht. “Overall, we’re exploring a deeper marriage between acoustics and electronics.” Matsuno is a Berlin-based guitarist who has earned his reputation on the international improvised music scene thanks to his skilful creations of textural soundscapes. Dayeon Seok, originally from South Korea, is highly regarded by Vollbrecht. “She’s a fantastic drummer, a Brooklynite for 10 years who recently relocated to the city of Seoul. Her playing is deeply rooted in rhythm, utterly new and creative. She’s become a household name on the New York jazz scene and belongs to the most interesting voices in forward-thinking music today.”

The quality of his fellow musicians has allowed Vollbrecht to write more open music for Givers & Takers. With close to no rehearsals, the material morphed into shape during a 12-date-tour in Germany, France, Austria and Ukraine, intentionally using the stage as a laboratory that allowed for the music to organically emerge from the live concert experience and the exchange with the audience. After two days of recording, the band went on to play sold-out shows in Paris and Odessa, with a grand finale at the Caribbean Club in Kyiv – in retrospect, a particularly moving event considering the immanent war that began shortly after.

Vollbrecht’s work is multi-faceted. As the new Director of Jazz Studies at the renowned Brown University, he brings his aesthetic ideas and touring experiences to his work in academia. “I’ve always enjoyed teaching,” he says, “I love being in touch with young creative people, who come with an urgency to learn and really want to develop as artists and human beings.” Following the completion of his Ph.D., he is also writing his first book on the legendary ECM-producer Manfred Eicher and his interactive recording approach as an auteur. This feeds well into Vollbrecht’s idea of a 21st-century citizen artist: “Music creation has a lot of moving parts to fit together,” he says, “reflective thought, teaching, composing, social agency, entrepreneurship, and – of course – playing.”

Vollbrecht’s versatility and wide-ranging skills are extraordinary, but above all his saxophone playing has awarded him high praise:

“Luminously fine German saxophonist-bandleader […] blessed with fluidity and intricate twists”New York City Jazz Record

“Remarkable talent […] Featured musician of the month”Hot House Magazine, New York

“A true discovery!”NDR Radio.

Givers & Takers brings all this together and is further proof of Vollbrecht and his FLY MAGIC quartet’s top notch contemporary jazz status.