“The Raid” – a trio album like a surprise attack, disarmingly complex thanks to a band
leader well-versed in all of the tricks of the playing techniques and composition trade.
With his self-titled CD debut, cellist Stephan Braun, a seasoned musician to be sure,
answers the question once and for all of what the true domain of the cello in jazz is:
Complexity sets the tone on “The Raid,” the debut CD of the Stephan Braun Trio. Latin rhythms, 70s
grooves and urban cool jazz encase smooth vocals and are topped off by the band leader’s cello on a
techno trip. Stephan Braun defines a broad style terrain with nine of his own compositions. The force
behind the wealth of his inventive playing techniques easily puts the cello on par with jazz’s more
traditional lead instruments. All three members of the young Stephan Braun Trio can boast of having
completed their studies at a German college of music. However, this is just one aspect of their
respective professional histories. Drummer Bodek Janke, born in 1979 in Warsaw, is strongly
influenced by his Polish-Kazakh-Russian roots. His learning to play the Indian tabla percussion
instrument, work with internationally acclaimed jazz greats and current residence in New York are all
factors that contribute to this picture of a shimmering, versatile musical personage. Also a Poland
native is pianist Matthäus Winnitzki whose heart belongs to Afro-Cuban music. With Hamburg as his
adoptive home, it is no wonder that this founder of several bands and owner of his own label (brennt
rekords) can mostly be heard in Latin Jazz ensembles. In the middle of his classical studies, Stephan
Braun ultimately decided to pursue training in jazz whereby his concentration on groove techniques on
the cello earned him not only his degree, but also several distinctions setting him apart from the rest.
He has been awarded at national and international competitions and has up till now made a name for
himself with the group deep strings (winner of the Berlin “Jazz and Blues Award” 2004) and by playing
with the NDR Big Band, Annamateur and the Kristjan Randalu Quartet.
“The Raid“ is a declaration of sophisticated jazz composition far removed from the ingrained “themeimprovisation-
theme” formula. Stephan Braun’s creations are the products of his love for and
exhaustive knowledge of composers from the expressionist and classical modern eras: Igor
Stravinsky, Béla Bartók served as the godfathers of many an intricate groove. On the other hand, the
cellist invokes role models such as the violinist Didier Lockwood and the pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba
while tipping his hat at the invaluable qualities of jazz-ally, pop superstar Sting. The successful feat of
conclusively distilling this immense spectrum into a single CD concept is largely attributed to its guest
artists. Gerard Presencer, London wunderkind turned seasoned jazz professor and star guest on “The
Raid”, contributes soulfully flawless trumpet and flugelhorn tones. Anne-Christin Schwarz, Braun’s
congenial partner in the deep strings ensemble, brings the vocal tracks into irresistible chanson twilight
with her smooth timbre.
The CD begins packed with energy with the title track „The Raid“. “Incity” follows with more intimate
sounds coolly colored by Matthäus Winnitzki’s sleek musical stylings on the Rhodes. Then there is a
change of scenery: “En Passant“ is a ballad characterized by vocal and flugelhorn soli a la Norah
Jones meets Sting in which Stephan Braun proves to be a competent “guitarist“ on his cello. It’s back
to just the trio members in “3onysos”. This sober, intellectually lifting piece harbours orgiastic soli by
Bodek Janke und Matthäus Winnitzki. In „Memento“ Stephan Braun’s playing revolves around themes
from Beethoven’s last cello sonata, to which his colleagues contribute Latin accents that grow into a
veritable samba number in the following track “Floating”. Here Braun trades in his cello for his
homemade “cello-bass”; an electrified hybrid with e-bass strings and a contrabass fingerboard
shortened to fit a cello scale. In a funky homage to Berlin one hears the “S1” train line speeding
through the kaleidoscopic metropolis. It is followed by the contemplative, dreamlike “No Tomorrow”
and finally “Exodos”, a short, solid kicker like a wild ride on a techno beat.
What did bass legend Ray Brown say about the cello? “It allows you to create elaborately and fast.”
Without a doubt, “The Raid” takes this truth to the next level.
Text: Michael Vrzal
Translation: Tara Hawk