Drummer-Composer Mareike Wiening Leads New York Crew On Greenleaf Music Debut
An in-demand sidewoman on the fertile jazz scenes of both New York City and her native Nuremberg, Germany, drummer Mareike Wiening [pronounced: Mar-eye-kuh Vee-ning] asserts her extraordinary talents as composer, player and bandleader on Metropolis Paradise, her first full-length CD and debut on the Greenleaf Music label. A follow up to her ambitious 2014 EP, Crosswalk, Wiening's latest outing once again features Nuremberg-born bassist Johannes Felscher, outstanding Toronto-born guitarist Alex Goodman (a New York resident since 2012 and winner of the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival Guitar Competition in 2014) and veteran tenor saxophonist Rich Perry (longstanding member of the Maria Schneider Orchestra and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra).
Pianist Dan Tepfer (longtime collaborator with alto sax legend Lee Konitz) was a last-minute replacement for Wiening's regular pianist Glenn Zaleski, who had suffered a broken elbow from a bike accident seven days before the recording took place. "I wanted to reschedule," said Wiening, "but a day later I learned that we were going to be the very last session to be recorded at Systems Two. It was a big dream for me to record at the legendary Systems Two Studio in Brooklyn, so rescheduling wasn't an option anymore. A friend of mine recommended Dan and said he would fit my music perfectly. Thankfully, he was free and we had a day to rehearse. My music isn't easy but he prepared it the best way he could and I think he played incredibly well. And Systems Two literally closed after our last take."
While Mareike's highly interactive drumming fuels this spirited session, it's the breadth and depth of her eight challenging compositions, along with her gift for melody and lyricism, that truly predominate throughout Metropolis Paradise. And her stellar sidemen rise to the occasion with impeccable execution and inspired soloing from track to track.
Wiening began studying piano at age five and participated in classical competitions in Germany until she was 16. She also studied flute for six years and sang in a choir for ten years before starting on drums at age 16, later playing in the German Jazz Youth Orchestra. She received her bachelor of music degree from the University of Performing Arts Mannheim and the Rhythmic Conservatory of Music Copenhagen and, thanks to a two-year scholarship from Germany, in 2012 moved to New York to work on her masters degree at New York University, where she studied with veteran drummer Tony Moreno. During her second year at NYU she began studying with Stefon Harris, a pivotal period in her musical development. "I took private lessons in composition as well as his harmony class," she recalled. "His approach to improvising/composing/harmony and ear training/communicating within the band had a huge impact on my playing and my relationship to music. It opened up a whole other world to me." She also cites Argentine composer Guillermo Klein as an important influence. "I love his music and I started taking private lessons with him in 2016 on a regular basis, which I still do. He had a huge impact, for instance, on the title track to Metropolis Paradise."
The collection opens with "Free Time," a buoyant number full of harmonic movement and underscored by Wiening's adept brushwork. Goodman and Perry blend in unisons on the melodic head before the saxophonist breaks loose for a bold tenor solo and the guitarist follows suit with a fluid, warm-toned solo of his own. "I love Rich's sound and in unison with Alex it's so perfect," said the composer. "The counterpoint passages underscore the harmony in a different way, maybe a hidden influence from my classical past. I loved Alex's playing from the first minute I heard him back in 2012 and he's still my favorite guitar player in the city. His energy and musical ideas are so clear and tasteful, it was exactly what I was looking for."
The suite-like "2 in 1" opens with Tepfer's thoughtfully introspective solo piano intro before the band enters, playing unison against Wiening's interactive brushwork. A series of stop-time phrases allows the drummer to traverse her kit with aplomb before introducing some intricate counterpoint against Tepfer's hypnotic arpeggiating. The mood then shifts to a strong backbeat behind Goodman's fleet-fingered guitar solo before drummer and saxophonist engage in a conversational free duet together. "This piece was composed together but it clearly contains two ideas in one song," said Wiening, referring to the title. "The solo piano part goes over the form and harmonic structure of the first melodic theme. With the stop-time, I wanted to incorporate the drums on a melodic basis. That part is also the transition into the second part of the song, which is based on a triplet, Afro-beat kind of feel. The busy piano ostinato is a constantly changing riff. Dan had to practice that a lot. The guitar solo is based on the harmony of the Afro-beat part but is a nice contrast to the busy triplets that happen before."
She added, "I was writing that piece thinking of different places I call home. I grew up in Norway as a kid and spent every summer for the past 20 years there. I also studied in Copenhagen for a year, I'm fluent in Norwegian and speak Danish and I love the nature and the silence there, a perfect place to relax. But I also love busy cities like New York or Paris. And obviously, I'm German. People often ask me how I can change immediately from a New York lifestyle into a small-city vibe like my hometown in Germany, but it doesn't affect me at all. For me it's all the same as long as I feel home and comfortable."
The whimsical "For a Good Day" is a delicate waltz with a memorable melody that features sparkling solos from tenorist Perry, bassist Felscher and pianist Tepfer. "I wrote this song on an unexpected free afternoon in Brooklyn close to Prospect Park," said Wiening. "It captures that special feeling that springtime in New York can evoke. It's definitely influenced by Brad Mehldau, who brought me into jazz. I heard him live in Burghausen the very first time in 2007 and since then I've never been tired of listening to all of his albums on a regular basis. I saw him many times, most recently at the Village Vanguard with Leon Parker. He's a constant source of inspiration and his music fits all kinds of different moods."
On the other end of the spectrum of that carefree ditty is the edgy, rhythmically-charged "Misconception." As the composer explained, "That's a drum-nerdy tune. My former teacher at NYU, Tony Moreno, used to tell me to write tunes in order to practice things I'm not comfortable with. I was getting into polyrhythms in 5/4 on the drums and found the main groove of 'Misconception' through practicing 4 over 5. I couldn't stop exploring and finally found harmonies and the bass line for the song. The dissonance and the funky vibe is part of the emotional engagement I'm looking for. It's definitely something that captures your attention!" Goodman's beautiful solo guitar exploration midway through offers a rare revealing moment in this imposing composition while the driving band ostinato near the end of the tune allows Wiening to unleash on the kit with a vengeance.
The gentle, unhurried ballad "Viewpoints," showcases Tepfer's exquisite accompaniment and the leader's coloristic work with brushes, and also features another beautifully melodic bass solo from Felscher. "Relations" is the lone swinger here, with the leader igniting the track with her slick Papa Jo Jones hi hat work. "I needed a tune like 'Relations' on the record because it basically shows me as a drummer," said the leader. "I see myself clearly as a jazz drummer and I love swinging on jazz standards. In New York, that's what I do the most, in fact. I expected that I would write more jazzy songs but somehow it didn't happen. I started playing jazz very late and maybe it's not deep enough in my composing skills. My drumming personality and my composition personality are very different, I'm still working on bringing both closer together." Perry digs in here, revealing his bebop hand on an invigorating tenor solo while guitarist Goodman follows suit with a flowing, Metheny-influenced guitar solo. Tepfer also responds with an urgent piano solo on top of the irrepressibly swinging pulse laid down here by Wiening and Felscher.
The moody, mesmerizing title track is a rhythmic puzzle of interwoven ostinatos and shifting harmonies. Inspired by her daily life in New York City, it features some flowing call-and-response between guitar and piano while Perry's plaintive tenor sax carries the main theme. "This piece was influenced by Guillermo Klein," Wiening explained. "I admire composers who make the music sound 'easy' and floating but if you look at it closer you realize it's super hard! Guillermo definitely has that quality in his writing. I was hearing that odd-metered melody in the piano/bass, and first when I wrote it down I realized it's uneven. That is also influenced by that feeling you get when you're traveling a lot between the continents. With jetlag, it's often hard to keep track of time/day/time zone so I wanted to express this drifting, unsettled state of mind in this composition."
The closer, "Free At Last," was originally written for a commission that Wiening got in Germany in 2018. "We had a year honoring Martin Luther," she recalled. "Since the organizer wanted me to find a reference to my current life, the only thing I could think of was comparing Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr. I composed seven songs (for vocals, guitar, sax, bass and drums) referring to and comparing ML and MLK. 'Free At Last' is one I wrote where I incorporated parts of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech to Martin Luther's scripture "About the Freedom of a Christian Man." One of the highlights of this darkly introspective piece is the conversational interaction between Wiening, Felscher, Tepfer and Goodman on the open-ended, lightly swinging 3/4 section midway through the evocative piece.
"I would describe my music as very intuitive and emotional," said the composer, "but because I'm classically trained on the piano, it's also technically very demanding, especially for the pianist. Melodies are extremely important for me as well as interesting rhythms. I look for surprises when I compose, and for an emotional engagement."
Wiening has succeeded in both regards on her stunning debut for Greenleaf Music.
Total time: 53:00
All compositions and arrangements by Mareike Wiening (GEMA).
Produced by Mareike Wiening.
Executive Producer: Dave Douglas.
Edited by Tyler McDiarmid.
Mixed and Mastered by Dave Darlington.
Recorded at Systems Two Recording Studio on June 21 and 22, 2018 by Max Ross.
TOUR DATES 2019
Oct. 31 Toronto, ON
Nov. 1 Buffalo, NY
Nov. 2 Waterloo, ON
Nov. 3 Ottawa, ON
Nov. 5 New York, NY
Oct. 4 Karlsruhe
Oct. 5 Munich
Oct. 6 Rosenheim
Oct. 7 Nuremberg
Oct. 8 Mannheim
Oct. 9 Frankfurt/Main
Oct. 10 Heilbronn
Oct. 11 Ettlingen
Oct. 12 Essen
Oct. 13 Hannover
Nov. 21 Duisburg
Nov. 22 Frankenberg
Nov. 24 Münster
CD AND DIGITAL DOWNLOADS AVAILABLE IN STORES AND ONLINE ON NOVEMBER 1, 2019 AND THROUGH WWW.GREENLEAFMUSIC.COM
ABOUT GREENLEAF MUSIC - Greenleaf Music is an independent music company owned, operated and curated by trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas. While concentrating on releasing jazz, post-jazz and world music, the company's primary focus is creativity in musical expression. Greenleaf's sound is defined by the artists signed to it, and the room they are given to explore their own sonic world. What truly interests listeners is not just the recorded product, but the artists themselves. As such, Greenleaf strives to create interactions with fans that go beyond traditional recorded music sales. Producing CDs, vinyl records, downloads, sheet music, subscriptions, a monthly podcast as well as a blog with artist commentary and discussion, Greenleaf Music creates a dynamic community of fans that supports artists fully and fairly.