Album Reviews

Day and Night

2018, Shifting Paradigm 139

Wallmann’s confident, muscular and elegant playing leads a set of tunes evenly divided between standards and original compositions. The opening track, “Press Briefing,” described as an impression of a White House press conference, builds in tense interplay between Stephens and Wallmann with Lynch adding bright and fierce trumpet that helps conclude the tune with a dynamic flourish. The pace then mellows a bit, gliding along on Thelonious Monk’s “Think Of One,” the last third of the performance showcasing Stranahan’s nuanced, crisp beats. The set continues with an interpretation of the Cole Porter classic “Night and Day,” its title inverted to name the disc. Another Wallmann original, “No Blues For No One,” follows, highlighting the horns’ smooth-as-silk grooves in a thoroughly satisfying tune. A slightly edgy take on the standard “All Or Nothing At All” includes Middle Eastern nuances, and fades down, leading into “Toddlin’,” which brims with clipped, bouncy notes inspired by Wallmann’s youngest daughter’s first steps. The album closes with a fully fleshed-out quartet version of “What Now?” that highlights the essential phrasing of Pavolka’s bass. Day and Night, a nuanced set of tunes balanced in perfect dynamics, is meant to be sipped and savored from beginning to end.

3 ½ stars, Downbeat Magazine, February 2019, Catalina Maria Johnson

(Top Ten) Best Jazz Albums of 2018
– Kevin Lynch, No Depression, The Journal of Roots Music

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Love Wins

2018, Fresh Sound New Talent, FSNT-538

Wallmann, 43, in March released one of the most interesting and accomplished jazz albums to come out in recent years. Credit the disc’s “nouveau-electronic big band” sound or its political messaging around same-sex marriage, but either way Love Wins has taken the uniquely American art form to the next step of its creative journey.
- Wisconsin Gazette, "‘Love Wins’ for jazz artist Johannes Wallmann" Michal Muckian (link)

Our first Best Albums of 2018 (So Far) recipient was a labor of love that combined sharp arrangements, stellar piano playing by Johannes Wallmann and compositions that feature both contemporary jazz and elements of hip-hop written with Bob Dz. Together, they tell the story of the march towards justice regarding marriage equality. Wallmann pulls no punches, yet the album is always engagingly moving.
- Something Else! "Preston Frazier’s Best Albums of 2018 (So Far)" (link)

"I can think of few recordings in recent memory where the music and lyrics prove as passionate, engaging and thoughtful as Love Wins."
- Kevin Lynch, No Depression (link)

Wallmann, teaming up with spoken word artist Rob Dz, traces and celebrates [...] struggle and triumph. Adopting a broader stance not limited to marriage equality, he addresses history, civil liberties on the whole, and societal issues stretching across a large canvas. In the strutting, NOLA-inflected "Equality!" opener, for example, Dz cites or references both the Stonewall Inn and Rosa Parks' seated stand before launching into an exploration of equality's meaning. Then, after instrumental rubato ruminations on "Preamble," Dz homes in on the topic at hand during the oft-vamping, comfortably-paced title track. The voices of various soloists—Wallmann, trumpeter Russ Johnson, guitarist Kenny Reichert, and tenor saxophonist Dennis Mitcheltree, to mention a few—are artfully worked into the numbers on this album, serving the story itself and the art in the storytelling. Nobody grandstands; everybody understands the purpose of this music. As the album moves forward, so too does love itself. "We (Reach For) Love" carries a sense of determination within its resolute feel; "The Seventh Circuit," lacing a foreboding rock atmosphere with audio clips from Wisconsin's failed last-ditch appeal to the titular court, paints part of the struggle in its journey; "Can I Know (More Love)" is a calm call and plea, gently expressing a strong desire to see things righted; and "We (Will) Love" carries hope in its heart. Love's quest and Wallman's win are inextricably linked in this music, but there's a universality to be found in this most personal of projects. The battle for truth, justice, and fairness, touching nearly everybody in some way, is never over, and Wallmann reminds us that we shall overcome.
- Dan Bilawsky, All About Jazz (link)

Wallmann makes a septet sound like something much larger, as big as his subject, maybe. Love Wins is as musically challenging as it is socially, and deserves to be heard on both counts.
- Brian Morton, Jazz Journal (UK), February 2018

“Wallmann sounds like he was inspired by Gil Scott Heron but this reality based recording was inspired by his move to Wisconsin to head the UW jazz program but being denied the right to have his same sex marriage recognized by the state which led him to the ACLU's door who took this to the Supreme Court. Whew. All that and there's a bunch of good blowing in the bytes. Topsy turvy music for times that seem to be offering nothing but strong headwinds, this is clearly jazz you can make a statement with.”
- Midwest Record (link)

“Un hymne à l’égalité et à l’amour pour la dignité et l’espoir qui brasse différents genres musicaux (rap, influences afro-cubaines, indie-pop, R’n’B et jazz). Un disque riche, consistant et positif, très réussi.”
- Culture Jazz (France) (link)


The Town Musicians

2015, Fresh Sound New Talent, FSNT-469

"The Town Musicians affirms Johannes Wallmanns reputation as a remarkable pianist and composer. Here, he leads a sterling ensemble that optimizes poised improvisation, while also placing high premiums on cohesive empathy over flashy exhibitionism. His evocative compositions are brimming with melodic cogency and rhythmic pull.
Such is the case with whimsical Wookies Groove, a jaunty melody with hints of Monks Mood. Drummer Jeff Hirshfield and bassist Sean Conly push the song forward with a loping, second-line shuffle that provides a springboard for Gilad Hekselmans gnarly guitar asides, Russ Johnsons cackling trumpet solo and Wallmanns economical comping and bluesy filigrees.
The exuberant Paper Balls bounces to a sleek, post-bop swing, over which Hekselman and Johnson unravel knotting modern bop improvisations. The stately Lakeshore attests to the pianists gift for penning ballads. Wallmann and company unfold a rapturous melody, accentuated by Johnsons clarion trumpet and a haunting piano accompaniment.
The ballads are the main sweet spots on this disc. In addition to Lakeshore, the other standouts are the suspenseful waltz November Song, which features tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens sharing the frontline with Johnson, and the dusky Concurrencies, which hints at soul-jazz thanks to Hirshfields gentle backbeat and the songs succinct melodicism.
In turn, the discs most riveting moment occurs on its sole non-original, Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerners I Could Have Danced All Night. The musicians recast the once-giddy melody with a shapely, almost harmolodic treatment, marked by intertwining improvisations from Wallmann, Johnson and Hekselman that waft about without ever losing focus."
- John Murph, DownBeat Magazine (October, 2015)

"If I were responsible for an album as good as this, Id be shouting about it but the package lacks information apart from recording and personnel details plus track listings. There does however seem to be a hidden structure and possibly a narrative to the 12 tracks. The music isnt lapel-grabbing but it does speak persuasively and in a variety of mood, with a spirit of basic consensus that allows the tunes to develop with everyone making significant statements.
And what super tunes they are, especially Paper Balls, a quiet sizzler that has guitarist Hekselman setting off with bassist Conly in a line, to be caught by Wallmann with trumpeter Johnson in support as the guitar drops back, but not to any routine background function. Part of the delight of this album is derived from the way musicians momentarily out of contention regularly communicate their presence. Then theres the lengthy November Song, featuring tenorist Stephenss second of only two appearances. His solo emanates from a sax-guitar-trumpet chorus before Wallmanns solo and then Hekselman works his wonders behind Conlys. Id almost be persuaded that Stephenss early exit was part of the unwritten scenario. Thats further hinted at by three short interludes based on a piano-bass ostinato, the last featuring Hekselman in distant, excruciating turmoil. The tracks are Wallmanns bar I Could Have Danced All Night, around which rings are run before the theme becomes Lerner/Loewe as we know them. Fascinating."
-Nigel Jarrett (Jazz Journal, UK, July 2015)

"Johannes Wallmann could write a great travel guide about the North American jazz landscape. German-born but raised in Vancouver, the Ph.D.-holding pianist has performed across the entire continent and lived on both of its coasts. In Oakland, California, he directed the jazz studies program at California State University. In New York City, he taught jazz improvisation and music theory at New York University and The New School. In Madison, Wisconsin, where he currently lives, he serves as the director of jazz studies for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 
His latest disc, The Town Musicians, is shaped by the sounds of the places hes called home. Hes accompanied by longtime New York trio partners Sean Conly (bass) and Jeff Hirshfield (drums), as well as the acclaimed Israeli guitarist Gilad Hekselman and fellow Midwestern transplant Russ Johnson on trumpet. Bay Area tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens joins the team for two tracks. The program is a stunning collage of jazz styles and genres, switching idioms from track to track. The New Orleans funk of Wookies Groove sets a charge early on, with Johnsons growling trumpet and Hekselmans twangy riffs adding some grit. Paper Balls is an incendiary East Coast bop tune, with a fierce, locomotive bass line by Conly that pushes the band to the brink, and Interlude #3, which features fleet fretboard work from Hekselman, melds crunchy fusion sounds with the unpredictability of the avant-garde. 
The albums title comes from a Brothers Grimm folktale about four animalsa donkey, a dog, a cat and a roosterwho grow tired of rural life and decide to become musicians, leaving the cozy confines of their farm in search of excitement. Though at first they cant coordinate their whinnies, barks, purrs and cock-a-doodle-doos, they soon learn to join their distinct voices in harmony. Wallmann, a similarly well-traveled troubadour, has accomplished a comparable goal. Hes created a harmonious album from a lifetime of diverse sounds and experiences."
- Brian Zimmerman, DownBeat Magazine Editors Pick (online) (August 2015)
 

Profiles

 

"Making A Scene: Johannes Wallmann spreads the gospel of jazz" (link)
Cover article by Jane Burns for December 8, 2016 issue of Isthmus Magazine