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Austrian, Cologne-based pianist-keyboard player-composer Philip Zoubek released three albums with his trio –  double bass player David Helm and drummer Dominik Mahnig – since its formation in 2016, all highlighting its independent and unconventional approach to the iconic format of the jazz piano trio as well as the dissolution of traditional role relationships. The trio relied on complex and multi-layered rhythms and its music incorporated preparations of Zoubek’s grand piano, electronics and, obviously, extended percussive and bowing techniques. There was no identifiable boundary between improvisation and composition in the trio’s music and no border between energy and sensitivity, between pause and departure.

The fourth album, Mirage, suggests this fertile trio in an extended format of a sextet, adding cellist Elisabeth Coudoux, reeds player Leonhard Huhn and Taiwanese percussionist (and also a cellist) Shiau-Shiuan Hung, all experienced in playing contemporary music and free improvised music. This extended format allows Zoubek to challenge his tonal language and compose ambitious pieces that navigate freely between the expansive sound universes of jazz, classical and contemporary music and ambient music.

Zoubek wrote the 13 pieces of Mirage and all correspond with his previous compositions for the trio and all suggest his inquisitive approach and often subversive and surreal architecture of pulse and sound. Viennese double bass player and journalist Nina Polaschegg, who wrote the liner notes to this album, describes Zoubek’s attempts to question pulses, repetitions and patterns, vary in form and timbre and create kaleidoscope-like, multi-layered pieces with cryptic inner logics. The extended trio interprets Zoubek’s compositions through the clever and subtle process of deconstruction and reconstruction, enriches these compositions through improvisations and layers of inventive extended techniques and carries Zoubek’s motifs further. Zoubek himself describes his compositions for the sextet as «cubist», and in a way, these mysterious compositions offer almost endless options to interpret their sonic images, ignite their elastic pulses and allow the music to blossom in unpredictable courses and dimensions.

Eyal Hareuveni

Philip Zoubek (prepared piano, synthesizer), David Helm (double bass), Dominik Mahnig (drums), Elisabeth Coudoux (cello), Leonhard Huhn (reeds), Shiau-Shiuan Hung (vibraphone, cello)

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