I read somewhere that Charles Mingus was considered to be the ideal three-pronged attack in jazz. He was 1) a master bassist, 2) a unique composer and 3) a tenacious bandleader. Add all three traits together and his relative obscurity in a Ken Burns miniseries is all the more baffling. But the multi-talented musicians always risk being swept under the rug. If you want attention, focus on one thing only and do the hell out of that one thing. Austrian bassist Georg Breinschmid isn’t exactly Mingus (who is?), but his many talents fall into some incredible places. He may be an excellent composer, but Breinschmid appears to be just as enthusiastic about his arranging skills when applied to European folk or classical. Saying that he is an expert bandleader is a little misleading since Breinschmid seems to dart back and forth from one small ensemble to another, pausing for some impressive dueting along the way. He is, all the same, very good at the upright bass. I’ll admit that his massive album Double Brein caught me completely off-guard. My only prior exposure to him was good but not exactly auspicious.
Double Brein is a large album in every way. It has 28 songs spread over two CDs, two of the tracks considered “bonus” tracks. The total running time is two hours and 31 minutes and these two pieces of plastic are absolutely stuffed with music. I know, they’re supposed to be encrypted with music, you’re right. That’s a music CD’s job. But when I say that they are stuffed with music, I mean that the package is practically alive. There are way too many trills, fills, solos, leads, rhythms, melodies, harmonies and forms for Double Brein to be considered a run-of-the-mill jazz release. Georg Breinschmid has transcended the word “music” from noun to adjective, injecting it with a blinding amount of color. And shame on me for not noticing it earlier. The 2014 round-ups have come and gone and Double Brein really should have been included in them.
With the title Double Brein, we are treated to Breinschmid’s two minds. The first half is, as he calls it, his “more jazz/folk/world-related projects and new compositions”. The first track is attributed to an ensemble named Brein’s Café with Gerald Preinfalk on soprano sax, Antoni Donchev on piano and Breinschmid on bass. If “Samba for Michi” doesn’t reel you in right away, then I don’t know how to sell this music to you. From there he steers you through gypsy jazz, vocal jazz, spoken-word jazz (with a belch along the way), jazz of so many kinds — at least the kinds you can do without drums. He reserves many a duet for his star trumpeter Thomas Gansch but is also content to let the guitarist or pianist do the talking on other tracks. Picking highlights feels unfair, but you cannot go wrong with getting to know the Reinhardt/Grappelli-inspired “Musette with Happy Ending” or the strangely funky “Danke”.
Disc two is the classically-inclined one, mixing Breinschmid originals with compositions by Liszt, Bach, Verdi, Monti and Breinschmid’s own violinist Florian Willeitner. If the music on the first disc was entertaining, the music on the second disc is dangerously good. The Janoska brothers’ (Frantisek on piano, Roman on violin) arrangement of Liszt’s “Mephisto Walzer” is track-stoppingly incredible. It begins in the romantic style, full of flourishes, but this takes a swing detour about a third of the way through. And since it’s over 12 minutes long, there’s plenty of time to switch back to the romantic period. Bach’s “Voilin Concerto in A Minor, 2nd Movement” features no violin, just piano, a vibraphone and Breinschmid’s bass. “Monti Csardas” is labeled as a “Sick Version”, but Breinschmid does not explain this in his otherwise charming liner notes which appear in both German and English. It could be that “sick” means that an unusual amount of liberties were taken with Monti’s work, even by the standards set forth by Breinschmid and his 25 other musicians.
It’s very important that you not consider these descriptions to be overwhelming. Double Brein is not a cluttered, pretentious mess. It is, almost miraculously, a warm and inviting listen. To say that there is a lot going on here is not always helpful. But what if I were to tell you that all of it was superb? Exceptional, even?
Photo: Oswald Wintersteller via artist Facebook.