German, Amsterdam-based pianist-composer-improviser Philipp Rüttgers has been active in the field of jazz and contemporary music in the Dutch scene for 15 years. Rüttgers’ debut album with his new piano trio – with double bass player Thomas Pol and drummer Sun Mi Hong (Rüttgers and Pol played before in Sun Mi’s contemporary ensemble Dance in Four Colors) – combines his two musical loves. He was inspired by innovative pianist-composers such as Craig Taborn, Kris Davis and Sylvie Courvoisier and the way they arrange shapes in harmonic and rhythmic structures, and their structure of improvisation and composition. And he studied carefully the aesthetics and the etudes of groundbreaking contemporary composers like György Ligeti, Arnold Schönberg and Claude Debussy, and was drawn to their use of harmony, counterpoint and form.
Etudes of Shapes and Forms was conceived as a thoughtful attempt to broaden Rüttgers’ vision of technical, harmonic and rhythmic possibilities as a pianist, composer and improviser. Pol and Sun Mi were the best partners for such a challenging journey and the album suggests almost telepathic dynamics and introspective dialogs (as one of the pieces is titled). The album was recorded live, with no overdubs, at Studio 2 of MCO (Music Center of Public Broadcasting) in Hilversum, the oldest radio studio in the Netherlands, with high ceilings, natural reverberation, and a Steinway Sons grand piano. The album’s artwork is a close-up of the painting «Prater» by Philipp’s late father Ralph Klaus, alias Tom Fleischhauer. The distant, yet familiar feeling that this painting evokes is reflected in Rüttgers’ music, suggesting an impression of abstractism, yet familiarity.
Rüttgers’ compositions manage to match a sense of mystery with joyful excitement, and organic flow with strong structures. He borrows for the opening composition «Rounds» the compositional technique that Ligeti uses in his etude «No4 Fanfares» to create an atonal yet structured sound. «Escher» references Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher’s work by translating the elusive dimensions into restless rhythmic patterns that move up and down. «Craig Dance» is an homage to Taborn’s strong left hand and the way his syncopated bass lines create an unpredictable forward movement. The composed pieces are divided by four free improvisations, all focused on one idea and a specific form to fit the compositional work. These improvisations, as well as the «Intro» and «Outro» pieces, highlight the rich and imaginative sonic palettes of Rüttgers, who experiments with preparations in the piano that often sound gamelan-like, Pol And Sun Mi, and begin to explore the great potential of this trio.
Philipp Rüttgers (piano), Thomas Pol (double bass), Sun Mi Hong (drums)