Simon Below Quartet | Elements Of Space
by Jeff Becker
Simon Below is a 23-years old Jazz-Pianist that in 2014 began studying at the “Hochschule für Musik “(HfMT Köln) in Cologne. Hubert Nuss and Prof. Hendrik Soll were his teachers. In 2016, he found his quartet with his fellow students: Fabian Dudek (saxophone), Jan Philipp (drums) and Yannik Tiemann (bass). The Band won several prizes, the international Avignon Jazz-price, “Tremplin Jazz D’Avignon” and Steinway Förderpreis NRW. In 2018 the Simon Below Quartet performed at the international Jazz Festival Avignon and won the Grand Prix du Jury, which included three days of recording at the famous La Buissonne studio in Pernes les Fontaines in the south of France. Countless ECM productions have already been recorded there (e.g., by Tigran Hamasyan, Florian Weber, Nik Bärtsch, Kristjan Randalu) and works by piano grandmasters Joachim Kühn, Brad Mehldau, Ahmad Jamal, and Carla Bley. In addition to the studio days in the summer of 2019, the award included another appearance on the festival’s main stage, which was followed by enthusiastic articles in the French jazz media. Elements Of Space is now being released and was the recordings made at La Buissonne.
Elements Of Space has much in common with many ECM records recording. Most notably, the outstanding sound and the spirit of the studio that nuanced the music. “Wasserschimmer” [Water-Swimmer] is the opening composition. Below describes the album as “Chamber jazz with a push.” The long piano intro, the dynamics of the band, and the skillful nuanced shifts between lyrical and powerful moments do have elements of classical and European jazz. The composition impressively demonstrates Below’s mature and multi-layered writing style. His various sources of inspiration are the pillars of jazz classics and include Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, and John Coltrane. He also pulls contemporary influence from Sylvie Courvoisier, Tyshawn Sorey, and Bela Bartók. Below also has much interest in the innovative overlapping of two different harmonies found in Frédéric Mompou’s writing style.
Below has a balance between his written material and providing room for the players to improvise. “The pieces contain starting points that give the improvisations a certain form,” explains Below. “In the modal ‘Hymn To The Stars,’ for example, the melody always stays present and individual musicians can use it as a starting point and play different sections of the piece.” The players are in-tune with each other, and together the group makes a powerful musical statement. “It is important to take risks, not to stick to the rules too much, but rather to have the courage to break out,” says Below. “This also includes advanced playing techniques – and the fact that Fabian always challenges me to play energetically.”
Elements Of Space is a balance of sometimes explosive musical moments paired with interesting fields of tension and release. While Below “still sounds distinguished and relatively introverted, even when he lets faster chord sequences drift into dissonance” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), Dudek counters with striking tone, varying between warm timbre and rough modulations. “Thanks to his energetic, often ecstatic power, Fabian is the most expressive in the quartet – and we know how to handle this,” Below laughs. Elements Of Space is a journey in the magic of the unpredictable and of the moment of surprise through the lens of European jazz language and influences.