Norbert Stein Pata Music
played by NDR Bigband


CD coverA milestone

German saxophonist Norbert Stein is an important progressive-jazz artiste, largely within European circles and has not yet become a well-known name on these North American shores. Here, Stein is the composer while conducting the fabled NDR Big Band throughout this 2-CD set. Nonetheless, he employs NDR for a rather dramatic sequence of vibrant tone poems, spanning disparate angles and rhythmic foundations. Complete with tricky time signatures, expressive and combustible horns, the music is also steeped in wit and slanted metrics, while at times eliciting a liquefying effect.

With the piece titled “Franz Patang – Part IV,” the band delves into a free-form mindset, accelerated by darting choruses and intense sax lines that instill gobs of movement – like boxers engaging in a sparring session. But in other segments, they tone it down via unorthodox charting and fractured rhythms. The Graffiti element iterated on these works parallels youth culture via an urban landscape smattered with divergent portraitures and depictions. No two pieces are starkly alike, which is a component that sustains interest.

The composition titled “Der Vogelschwarm,” is an up-tempo and brassy arrangement, where lament, jubilation and African pulses come out you with the rumble of a freight train operating at full throttle. Stein is like a scientist in a lab! He constructs motifs that feature Afro-Cuban pulses in support of eerie and droning background banter as notions of a hazy dream come to fruition. And on “Hot spots, Tai Chi & More,” either Mario Doctor or Mark Nauseef execute a tympani pattern that is contrasted with screaming horns. Therefore, Stein’s brainchild is a garden of polytonal and contrapuntal elements, marked by off-kilter swing vamps and multi-cultural inferences. In sum, this outing signifies a milestone in his irrefutably, impressive musical career.

Glenn Astarita /

... forges ahead to the new Jazz world that stands ahead of us in the 21st Century ...

Norbert Stein serves as conductor for the 23-piece NDR Big Band ... with a program of creative improvised music. Following his compositions to the letter and taking their cues from his hands, the band moves together as one big voice. Eschewing standard notes and symbols in his work, Stein gives the band a graphic representation of what he wants. The performance requires that its conductor provide every downbeat, a cue for every solo, and motions for changes in mood. Thus, the band acts with a cohesive voice, crowding together for voluminous downbeats and relaxed patter in between. The first selection, a suite in four parts, features improvised solo work from saxophone and piano while a dramatic wall of sound thumps alongside. The band comes together with every large pulse, parading rhythmically with a steady pattern. Surprises come only in the form of quirky harmonic structures, which result from the freedom that Stein advocates through his composed pieces. Rhythmically, the suite follows a linear order to precision. The next selection is a suite in one part. “U.B.U.,” subtitled “,” which features several members of the brass and saxophone sections in excited fury. Here, rhythm gets a reprieve, as the band lets down its hair and proves that it can deal with spontaneity. Once again, the conductor’s downbeats provide a cohesive sound wall; however, this time the band’s rhythmic patterns vary. The first CD closes with a 6- part suite, “Music in 7 Houses,” whose named movements count out the houses in order. Extended solo work from Fiete Felsch on soprano recorder, Marcio Doctor on percussion, Lucas Lindholm on bowed bass, and Mark Nauseef at the drum set drive this piece with plenty of spirit. The suite marks the best use of Stein’s format: soloists with large band accompaniment in a spontaneous outcry. The composer’s suite “Der Vogelschwarm” opens the second CD with three pieces that flow like Joe Zawinul’s Jazz Fusion in a contemporary affair that features the high anxiety of electric guitar, the ancient tradition of vocal chants, and a propulsive big band sound that explodes with collective thrashes. Stein’s suite “Hot Spots, Tai Chi & More” closes out the second CD with three pieces that include spoken word, a cocktail hour piano trio interlude, and more of his big band unison thunder. All together, the large ensemble attacks each measured beat with perfect precision while providing spontaneous clusters of offbeat harmony.

Jim Santella / ©Cadence Magazine 2007

Adventure to the brim

If you think all big bands sound the same, wait until you hear this double CD set from the NDR Big Band. Conducted by maestro Norbert Stein, this 22 piece orchestra packs adventure to the brim. Consisting of all original music, in more ways than one, Graffiti Suite is filled with outside and adventurous sounds, at times ready to burst, and always pushing at the seams. The suite´s overture features brassy and sassy tones, with fluttering bones and trumpets eventually segueing into the fiery "U.B.U./" that includes some torrid interplay between Marc Nauseef´s drums and Christoph Lauer´s tenor saxophone. There is also some exotic percussion work provided by Marcio Doctor, which blends into Stephan Diez´s moody guitar work and Lucas Lindholm´s nourishing bowed double bass on the challenging "Music in 7 houses". The rumbling brass on "Flocking birds" is quite intriguing and though provoking. The free floating rhythm section is well suited to the bluesy sax on "Hot spots" which also includes some quite original vocal effects. There is a lot of music here to dwell on for the big band fan with large horizon.

George Harris / All About Jazz

Highly recommended

Jazz conceptualist Norbert Stein has spent his career exploring how to bring different musical minds together in collaborative, mutually stimulating ways. With Graffiti Suite, he has gone into the lion’s den of jazz orthodoxy, the NDR Bigband, an aggregation of hardened studio pros, and got them to think way, way outside their usual ‘box’ of charts and changes.
Starting with a 4-part triptych based on sound sculptor Franz Pataeng’s works, Stein uses his graphic notation and conducting to elicit striking sound masses, a kind of jazz Edgard Varèse. And with all that assembled hornage, he gets some architecturally magnificent vibrational structures. But it’s when the veteran jazzbos start soloing that their roots start showing. Jazz soloists spend a lifetime developing their vocabularies, their expressive modus operandi; that’s who they are as musicians. So when they start to solo, well, this is stuff we’ve heard before. Some moments are transcendently beautiful, like Fiete Felsch’s lithe recorder solo in "Music for 7 Houses." And Marcio Doctor and Mark Nauseef contribute startling percussion/drum work throughout. Make no mistake: solos on this 2CD set are superb. But what Stein needs for this monumentally ambitious suite are players who can invent their own rules, not just work within someone else’s. That said, this is easily the most challenging, widest ranging big band music you’re likely to hear in this decade. Highly recommended.

Glen Hall / Exclaim

All the ingredients that allow synergy to work

Interaction among separate elements can have greater impact than the individual actions of those elements. The process is called synergy. Synergy works on all levels and is an important factor behind the successful outcomes that can emerge from collaborative effort--and it can be powerfully productive when individuals get together to make music.

Composer/conductor/musician Norbert Stein's double-disc Graffiti Suite, performed by the NDR (North German Broadcasting) big band, has all the ingredients that allow synergy to work. On the macro scale are the band, Stein’s composition and the language the composition is built on. Separating these three units means seeing the players and their instruments as the band and the composition as being a systematized set of parts, each of which also contains sub-sets of parts. How powerfully the language of the composition influences the interaction of the parts (band members to instruments to each aspect of the composition) equals the music.

Stein’s compositions are based on a language of graphic representations of the way in which he wants the sound to be constructed. He has developed this language through some thirty years of involvement with improvised music. When the idea of graffiti--images seemingly dissociated, but bearing a stylistic resemblance and grouped together on one surface--is likened to Stein’s music, one can imagine the application of his graphic language to determine the music’s process.

The first disc opens with an orchestral blast stating its formal presence. “Franz Pataeng” progresses in a fashion that seems to be compartmentalized but, as it unfolds, begins to make musical sense as the addition of each layer of sound increases the piece's density and dynamic. The soundscape of this four-part work changes from high to low, continuous to discrete, harmonious to dissonant, ornamental to chordal, through one high-lighted single instrument to a large number of instruments. The following “U.B.U” has similar characteristics.

Stein turns the textural corner in “Music In Seven Houses.” Here he chooses to isolate different instruments, before gradually pulling them together so that their coloration builds the architecture of sonority. The individual instruments often take the lead, but escape their isolation quickly. Towards the end, the introduction of a rhythmic pattern that straddles an extended sequence of chords played by the brass, provides a stark contrast to the abstract character of the first half of the first disc.

On the second disc, the rhythmic content carries the thrust for “Flocking Birds.” The music becomes a programmatic portrait of the dynamics of a natural phenomenon as interpreted by Stein. The lead instruments change from part to part to alter the focus of the flow, which glides evenly, the way birds fly together, moving their wings unsynchronistically but to the same purpose. The electric guitar, trumpet, trombone and saxophone govern the instrumental direction over a vocal or brass chordal drone and spry tabla or drum rallies.

The final passages of the track slowly devolve from orchestral blasts of sound into groups of fluttering male voices, percussive snippets and instrumental blurts which, when combined, paint a picture of a flock of birds at rest on a plain, chattering and reassembling before the next leg of migratory flight. The music then disappears gradually, as if moving far away into the distance.

“Hot Spots, Tai Chi & More” concludes the suite. A quick, tight pace runs through its three parts. First off, a trombone and a muted trumpet anchor the traveling motion within a bass and percussion background, propelling the music forward. Then the alto and tenor saxophones, joined by pounding bass and tuba, maintain a dry, rhythmic, machine-like timbre, with an oddly oriental dissonance, eventually reaching a strange, yet transitory, heaviness. New, lightened atmospheric patterns yield to a conversation between trumpet, saxophone, piano, bass and percussion. Eventually, the individual instruments succumb to the band-community in a startling and conclusive march.

Stein borrowed the term “pata” for his recording label from a scientist who theorized a physics that worked outside of the realm of logic and causality. The resultant non-lyrical, non-poetic structure of Graffiti Suite complies with that ethic of unrelatedness--but were it not for the inherent synergistic principle that exists within the music, its integrity would elude us.

Lyn Horton / All About Jazz

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