Paul Zetter – Four Elements

Paul Zetter – Four Elements

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Paul Zetter

There’s something special about listening to jazz in the open air. It’s as if the instruments are nearer to their constituent elements. Last Saturday’s Max.Bab quartet concert in the Goethe courtyard certainly had the four elements of fire, water, earth and air, manifested in how the music was played and the four musicians who played it.

Riding the crest of the German new wave of jazz, alongside the likes of Tim Alhoff, Benjamin Shaefer and Jurgen Friedrich, Max.Bab led by young piano luminary, Benedict Jahnel are its young ambassadors. Their music is optimistic, cultured, balanced and thoughtful, mixing contemporary jazz forms with folk, classical and rock in a fashion started by the Swedes with E.S.T. but now evolving into a broader vocabulary.

Jahnel on piano is water, his probing right hand figures giving the music a clear flow and current of energy. Max von Mosch on saxophone is the air,  breathing life into a beautiful silver tenor sax and on occasion, soprano, with a cool tone reminiscent of Wayne Shorter at his most melodic. Henning Tobias Sieverts’ bass is the earth, giving the foundation on which the rest of the band finds the pulse. Andi Haberl is the fire, one of those rare drummers who, like the legendary Paul Motian, sees the kit as a solo instrument and by so doing catapults the music into another level of shared expression and conversation. His playing sparkled and popped, his solos left the audience breathless, not in awe of his technique but by his relentless energy and focus on every beat, every touch and flourish.

Most of their original repertoire was from their most recent CD, Inner Orbit which takes space in all its manifestations as the theme. There was Interstellar Exit with its growing intensity, and conversation between bass and drums. The opener Star City’s soulful chords played by Jahnel who led from the front in tonal shades of light and dark.

After a while though you’re left wanting Max.bab’s near perfect execution and almost polite disposition to find a bit of growl and anger and this they discovered on Human Intent with Jahnel hitting the same syncopated hand dampened note until we were all hypnotized and Mosch found on Roses in The Corner and Boston Sky which demonstrated his full technique and ability to find the blue notes. The end piece, And Lasalle, from Jahnel’s recent trio album, Modular Concepts, was a quartet barnstormer that left everyone wanting more.

And the ‘everyone’, this evening were a mixed crowd of young and old who were not afraid to cheer, whoop and scream in applause. With the upper balcony full and standing room only at the back, the courtyard became a jazz sauna where the four elements of Max.bab swirled around like so many fireflies.

The sound of the band was beautifully mixed to the level of the unamplified saxophone. What a wise move in these over amplified days, the sound team understanding that volume in music is generated by the musician’s intensity not by capacitors in an amplifier.

I could go on and write a song by song analysis regaling you with more superlatives of how the band found a musical balance of the four elements but I won’t. Instead I want to apply some of the many lessons of time and space I learnt that evening to my own craft. I suspect others in the audience will be doing the same.

Words and photographs by Paul Zetter

Buy Max.Bab’s new CD

Buy Benedict Jahnel’s New Cd

Paul Zetter is an accomplished jazz musician, knowledgeable fan and enthusiastic writer and reviewer. He also writes his own blog dedicated to reviews of jazz piano trios. Read more of his writing and listen to him perform some of his own original music on the piano.


  1. Thanks for clearly laying out what I’ve been unable to put into words. Incredible performance! “Hypnotized” is the perfect description.

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