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   Escape Argot: Still Writing Letters: Release Information

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Release Date: 02.03.2018
EAN/UPC: 705304465424
TT Catalogue No: 4656

Escape Argot - Still Writing Letters

For ten years Christoph Steiner has fascinated audiences all over Europe with the fantastic band Hildegard lernt fliegen [Hildegard learns how to fly]. The band evokes the same euphoria whether among distinguished guests of renowned festivals or in a crowd expecting punk rock at an underground club in Berlin. Additionally, Steiner recorded an album with Claudio Puntin and the Lucerne Jazz Orchestra and amazes with his freely improvising trio Das Beet, with vocal acrobat Andreas Schaerer and Claude Meier on bass and electronics. The drummer, born in 1980, already composed pieces during his studies and also wrote for his duo with Marc Stucki. Escape Argot is the first project now, in which Steiner fully commits to the role of composer and bandleader. What led to this was a carte-blanche invitation to the annual festival of the Jazzwerkstatt Bern [Jazz-Workshop Bern]. Steiner put together an unusual instrumentation, in which they have been continuously working together ever since. “The band was supposed to be small, so it stays flexible for improvisation,” he explains, “also, I wanted to take myself into a new situation. That’s why I asked Christoph Grab if he wanted to take part.” Up until then, Steiner had never played with the saxophonist from Zurich. Besides tenor, alto and soprano saxophone, as well as bass clarinet, Grab, born in 1967, also masters live electronics. His non-conform project Science Fiction Theater is something in between serious jazz, exciting anarchy and ironic surf- and space-rock. Steiner has already known the cross-stylistically virtuoso pianist Florian Favre since college days. Originally from western Switzerland, Favre most recently enchanted listeners all over with his trio, with their album Ur and with great live shows, at the Jazzahead for example. His playing unites concentration, denseness and lightness, reflects classical influences, is reminiscent of pop music and captivates through virtuosity and French charm. “Besides piano, Florian often plays bass lines on the Moog synthesizer, thus combining two instruments in one head,” Steiner celebrates. The bandleader deliberately chose not to get a bass player, “because then I have different possibilities and responsibilities in shaping the sound as a drummer.”
The repertoire on Still Writing Letters sounds remarkably variable and at the same time preserves a conceptual overall theme. The core principle is regarding a composition or improvisation as a journey of sound. As apposed to traditionally arranged pieces, this journey doesn’t need to return to its starting point. Some passages entice with lyrical melodies and subtle beauty, others with swelling dynamics, surprising twists and ostentatious boosts of energy. To inspire more interaction, Steiner left a lot of open space on his sheets. Very few arrangements are fully formulated; in some pieces the almost fragmentary information fits on three staff lines. “This way we can communicate very personally and each express our own voice on equal footing.”

The “balance between free and organized”, their own language and the unconventional musical approach contribute a lot to the character of Escape Argot. Striding piano parts and occasional Moog lines, striking saxophone modulations and sometimes sensitive, sometimes vigorous drums often seem to stimulate each other. Steiner takes music very seriously but himself, not so much. Virtuoso acrobatics are far from his mind. “Of course groove plays an important role,” he explains, “but I wasn’t thinking from a drum set point of view. To me it was more about defining pieces through certain sounds.” A great joy in playing and a creative drive based on spontaneity are already manifested on the album and become even more apparent live in concert. “To hide away behind your music stand is no solution,” Steiner thinks, “we want to have communication with the audience.”

Christoph Steiner initially grew up near Basel, then in the small, but culturally still rather urban Burgdorf, which lies about 30 minutes away from Bern. In grade school he found the obligatory recorder lessons boring very quickly and instead fought for his wish of learning to play drums. At the age of 11 he got a drum set and his first lessons. As a teenager he began consciously listening to music with records of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. “Even then I didn’t settle on any specific genre,” he remembers. His gymnasium buddy Martin Ruch, now based in Berlin and responsible for the mixing and mastering of Still Writing Letters, used to compile hip hop mix-tapes; Steiner learned about Miles Davis and John Coltrane from his drum teacher. Already before finishing high school, the decision to become a professional musician evolved. In college in Bern, Steiner laid his focus on improvised music, but at the same time was still very interested in other genres. To this day he plays with rock bands from time to time. Christoph Steiner is a self-conscious guy, with whom you can talk about social issues as well. “I think as a musician you can live an alternative lifestyle contrary to the market-based norm. In Switzerland it is still a statement when you do what’s important to you, like investing time and money into a comparatively idealistic project, instead of buying a BMW.” Steiner finds it very important to oppose the indifference of the consumerist society, to trigger emotions and thoughts with art. That also explains some wordplay in titles of the pieces. “Dichter im Stress” [“denser under stress” or “poet in stress”] alludes to the discussion on density stress in the country, which claims that there are already too many people living in Switzerland and there is no more space for immigrants. Looking at the situation from outside and comparing to other parts of the world, that is complete nonsense of course,” Steiner says. “Überbauen mit Herr Mess” [“overbuilding with Mr. Mess”] aims in a similar direction; the title refers to the political term for too densely built up areas and to Steiner’s “Hermes”-typewriter, which he occasionally uses as a percussion instrument - and of course to the English word “mess”. Of course the band name and album title have significance as well. “’Argot’ stands for a medieval scoundrels’ slang,” Christoph Steiner explains, “and ‘escape’ is not referring to escapism in our case, but rather means breakout, or more precisely, entering a new level through music. Put together, Escape Argot stands for a music as language that tells things differently.” And why Still Writing Letters? “Essentially, we are practicing an old-fashioned form of communication. Without wanting to nostalgically romanticize too much: hand-made music is like writing letters. In the best case you take the time for it.”

Unlike the old Argot, the trio’s sound is no cryptic secret language that has to be deciphered first, to be understood. Quite the contrary! The cunning music catches the listener at once, because it seems sophisticated and alive, and it skillfully switches between accessible and complex passages. The trio’s great fun with detail and forceful playing is contagious. Contemporary jazz that also fascinates a younger audience with an affinity for rock music.

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