Michael Nitsch Band @ Bayerischer Hof Nightclub

Who would have thought that Bayerischer Hof Nightclub turns into a Lower Manhattan-type Jazz club on a random Tuesday night? But Michael Nitsch and his band of brilliant collaborators on the band stand made exactly that happen with natural ease and verve.

We had saved the date for weeks looking forward to Michael Nitsch presenting his recently released CD “Time“, which he masterminds as a leader while having the finest music talent of the “Northernmost Italian city” in the South of Germany collaborate on the album.

Opening the set with the first cut from the album, “Dawn“, the band set the tone right away for what was to become a state-of-the-art concert that confirms Bayerischer Hof Nightclub as one of the leading contemporary Jazz venues of the world. While Nitsch on lead guitar and Götz Grünberg on tenor saxophone wove a light-hearted mid-tempo theme, Patrick Scales on bass and Guido May on drums had a rock solid four-on-the-floor groove with a funky edge going from bar one, cleverly interspersed with off- and counterbeat accents, thus providing the rich rhythmic, dependable tapestry the soloists could break away from. And speaking of solos: While each of the collaborating performers proved their reputation as a-list talent being on promoters’, booking agents’ and studio owners’ speed dial, they even grew beyond their already impressive performances on the album, clearly enjoying themselves that night and bursting at the seams with energy and raw joy of performing!

Freedom“, the second tune on the album and on the setlist, opened on a sophisticated, funky slapped bass theme exquisitely delivered by Patrick Scales and joined in on by the band after four bars, going into a Fusion-informed main theme seasoned with some (Blues-) Rock guitar riffs that speak of the diverse music foundation Michael Nitsch is inspired by. With “Dawn” leaning towards mid- to uptempo, Freedom sported a more laid back, “pumping” beat that highlighted Scales’ and May’s “in the pocket” playing, impressively revealing their longstanding musical companionship as a highly sought after rhythm section.

Further exploring Nitsch’s musical influences, “Uncle Jack” took us right into the era of outstanding Bluesrock “stringslingers” the likes of which Nitsch so authentically channels through his guitar playing, while leaving his own personal signature on each of these styles. The intro to this tune gave Tino Derado one of his many shining moments that night by having him open the song on eight bars of improvising on an alterated turnaround chord progression sitting on top of a swung rhythm with a shuffle feel to it. Again, Scales’ and May’s playing fit like hand-in-glove as you’d expect of a well-versed and thoroughly experienced rhythm section.

The band closed out the first set on the title track “Time“, a contemplative Jazz ballad demonstrating the breadth and depths of musical interpretation of each of the artists, particularly so with May’s delicate handling of the brushes as well as Grünberg’s precise command of the reed.

Having listened to the incredible drum solo Guido May delivered on “They Will Return“, which sees the bass line accompany May’s most sophisticated offbeats and polyrhythmic kick and snare drum hits all throughout, one might have wondered what rendition of this challenging part of the cut they might come up with in a live setting. It was refreshing to see them throw in well-calculated fermatas on the one to keep the time of the song, thus most cleverly also keeping the audience’s attention firmly focussed on the drummer.

In order to relax a bit from this high energy tune with plenty of masterful soloing going on, Overberg, a composition contributed by Götz Grünberg, took us to calmer waters of the Jazz ocean tempowise, featuring Grünberg with a superbly structured, tension building solo channelling an influence most sax players will inevitably have to mention as a formative one: John Coltrane. Dynamics, tone, most refined musical expression are the qualities that need to be attributed to all band members and which became obvious in the most extraordinary way again during Grünberg’s solo.

Followers of Michael Nitsch’s Facebook profile will have noticed a number of inspirational posts drawing on the history of Native Americans. One might infer that the title “Wounded Knee” was at least in part informed by this stretch of early U.S. history and it starts on a chord progression delivered with a wah-wah guitar, thus adding another flavor to the mix of styles and episodes of music history. It wasn’t hard to see the band’s leader thoroughly enjoy himself while blasting out a whaling guitar solo that effortlessly connected Fusion with straight Rock and all the way back again.

Mousie is the closing track on the album and it marked the end of the second set that night as well, reiterating a straight Bluesrock informed chord progression and the shuffle feel typical of that genre, which certainly is Michael Nitsch’s musical forte.

Undeterred by some audience leaving after the second set in order to get an early start during a typical work week, the band performed a scintillating third set well after midnight, playing original Nitsch compositions as well as tunes by his and his band members’ musical role models, the likes of whom span Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Robben Ford to name just a few.

What better way is there to turn an otherwise slow Tuesday night into a memorable evening than by treating oneself to a show packed to the brim with music talent, tasteful delivery and inclined listeners who really appreciate what they’re seeing and listening to? I can’t think of a better option. Kudos to the band, the venue and – the audience for keeping refined music a defining aspect of our culture.

©W. Nieke, Oct. 2013


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