Sleight of Hand


BLUFF’s debutalbum Sleight Of Hand is released by BERTHOLD records on February 17th 2023. The line-up: Christian Höhn (trumpet), Tim Scherer (piano), Lucas Kolbe (bass), Jan Bernard Zeimetz (drums). Sleight of Hand is an act of illusion and manipulation, but far from trying to pull the woolover itsaudiences’ eyes,the quartet’s album title, according to Scherer, conveys “magic close at hand and the techniques over and above. Illusion and our craft are both easy to learn but hard to master, and that translates well into our music.”

The young quartet sees its debut album as a starting point and they don’t disappoint with their enthusiasm, thoughtfulness and virtuosity. Influenced not least by Immanuel Wilkins and Ambrose Akinmusire, contemporary and innovative US jazz musicians, BLUFF views its own music, according to Zeimetz as “in the present, not ancient and antique. The basic idea behind the album is to have a collection of sounds that the four of us composed and with which we grew together. It’s a beautiful way to get to know each other and each other’s music.”

The musicians met at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg, where they are still studying. “It was Tim’s initial idea to form the quartet. He invited us over a WhatsApp group, the modern way to form a band,” recalls Höhn who wrote Roots and Wings. “The title came after I wrote the piece. I suppose the repeated basslineis the roots and the melody wings over it. Torn Inside,another of my compositions,is about myexperiences of the COVID pandemic. It has a brutal middle section, strange chords and melody. X-Raysis also very dark with a repetitive almost robotic pattern from the Rhodes, like beams out of a machine.” Kolbe wrote Trains. “It’s almost a joke to say you like trains,” he says “but it’s true –I really do like them. This piece represents the meditative nature of going somewhere.” The bass player adds how important it is for the quartet to reach younger and different audiences, “making jazz hip again.”Slumpis a ballad written by Scherer. “I tried to compose a piece without tempo, where we really have to listen to each other and move in a unit. I took a lot of inspiration from Keith Jarrett who has concepts of playing without time and flowing together. It fascinated me.” Scherer also wrote Third Wizard, “a kind of stolen title. A guitarist friend called a tune Two Wizards, then discarded it. I really liked the name. It irked me that it would disappear forever, hence my title.”

Zeimetz sees the band’s music as a “fusion of different genres. We play improvised music but our influences are also from traditional jazz music from the 40s and 50s ,indie and hip-hop. So we play with a lot of electronic instruments. Our music is not so easy to categorise.” Scherer emphasises that the band is a collective with all equally responsible for decisions. “It takes a bit more time,” he says “but everyone has a say in what we do or how we sound musically and that’s what makes our music richer, because there are four opinionsand different influences that come together.”

But why BLUFF? “We needed a band name and it ties in with the album title,” explains Scherer. “The name embodies commitment, something that matters. because it wasn’t easy with Corona.Itfits to the saying ‘fake it till you make it’. Not in a disingenuous or bad way, but we knew the band was worth something in advance. In a sense that was the bluff.” The quartet,with its exuberance and promise, delighted the packed audience at the tour’s send-off concert in the Gondi in Bremen –where the band members were interviewed for this article. Their performance helped confirm the praise of Nils Landgren, the renowned jazz trombonist, who wrote “… with clever compositions and arrangements, brought to life by the musicians’ great dynamic and creative interpretation… BLUFF is already a part of our future.”

Ian Bild, November 2022

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