A complex piece-of-cake - Klaus Gesing´s "Heartluggage"
by Andreas Felber
His music has a virtuoso and round sound to it, but underneath it's surface – despite the
lightness and ease of the performance – there lie structural complexities, multifaceted
and often disguised references. They, in the opinion of the composer, may also be
reflecting traces of a personal disruption. Soprano saxophonist and bass clarinettist
Klaus Gesing, born in Düsseldorf (Germany), finished his studies in The Hague, spends
a lot of time in Italy, and this notwithstanding has been living in Vienna since 1998- is an
aesthete of sound: His profound and often fervid lyricisms prove to be musical thoughts
of a more intricate and multi-layered nature than initially meets the "ear".
Pleasant to the taste, sublime and self-evident: these may be the properties that one could
attribute to Klaus Gesing´s music.
A music that - despite all virtuosity – manages to maintain an aura of chamber musical
transparency and is characterised by a continuous and nuanced flowage spanning structurally
secure and organic musical phrases.
A music that explores the profundities of emotional expression rather than the widths of
experiment, a music that reconciles expressive intensity and lyricism.
It is music of a piece – and Klaus Gesing - being the choreographer - manages to realise
architectural stringency and an apollonian equilibrium. Or so it seems.
"My foremost interest lies in the aspect of communication" explains Klaus Gesing, "though
not at the expense of my integrity as a composer. In my opinion, tension is: knowing that
something quite intricate and complex can sound very simple, a piece of cake, so to speak.
The music gains intellectual depth and it enables me to communicate with experts and jazznovices
This sort of statement raises curiosity insofar as it implies another layer, another code that lies
hidden in the music of Klaus Gesing containing great structural challenges while being
disguised behind a very relaxed surface. It is these sometimes diabolic complexities –often
unperceivably simmering under the surface - that provide the music of Klaus Gesing - born
1968 in Düsseldorf, studying since 1990 at the Koninklijk Konservatorium te Den Haag and
further growing in the masterclasses of David Liebman in Stroudsburgh, Pennsylvaniasubstance
The suspenseful ambivalence of a smooth and rounded acoustic appearance on the one hand,
and his cunning compositional concept on the other, characterises the work of this since 1995
Austria-based wind instrumentalist.
It coins his work for the Jazz Big Band Graz, as well as the until now most relevant
recordings under his own name – the brilliant duo album "Play Songs" (ATS-Records),
recorded live in 2002 with the Italian pianist Glauco Venier, and the 2003 Trio-Opus
"Chamber Music" (Universal Music), with Venier and the British Vocalist-Magnificence
Norma Winstone ("Azimuth").
This art of the "complex nursery rhyme" seems to be even more characteristic for his new
quartet "Heartluggage", which came into being in 2004.
Especially the music of this ensemble lives on the inner contrast of a very intricate structural
concept and it's seemingly effortless rendition: 11/8 metres known from Bulgarian folk music
for example, as in "Dorothy's Dance" – where it appears in the form of a folkloristic flutepercussion-
motif – "Force on Fours" and "Tanz ohne Antwort" , or the contrapuntal
interpolation of the instrumental parts, the "rhythmic polyphonies" (Gesing), that create
tension in the piece "Heartluggage", giving the ensemble it's title. Gesing, per overdub, also
employs audacious super-impositions of various layers of wind instruments. In the case of
"Here and Now and You Forever" they even culminate in a fugato.
"I have listened to a lot of folk music, and that deeply imprinted itself in my head", explains
Gesing, soprano saxophonist with a liking for the high register, who easily intonates high up
there where others produce mere noise-sounds. "It manifests itself at every corner, not asking
for my permission, and often in a very subconscious manner. The part of the folk music is like
a secret code so deeply rooted in myself, that as a composer I never consciously decide in
favour or against it. That's just me".
What lies behind this interest in musical tradition?
"Folkmusic is for me a synonym for "Heimat", for being at home.
May be, that my longing for it has got something to do with the fact that I am German, spent
long years in the Netherlands, spend much time in Italy. My music also somehow reflects my
own disruption, as I from time to time do not know where I can feel at home myself.
Consequently one has to take refuge in feeling at home just with oneself, rather than with a
The fact that the initial name for the project was not "Heartluggage" but "Eastern
Enlargement"("Osterweiterung"), could lead to the conclusion that there might also be a paneuropean
program to the music of Klaus Gesing – a conclusion that hits the mark while not
reaching far enough.
It is no coincidence that Gesing relies on a young and international group of sidemen:
The virtuoso moscowian bassist Yuri Goloubev, who plucked the low notes for Michel Portal
and Adam Nussbaum among a multitude of others, and as a member of a variety of classical
with Barbara Hendricks, Thomas Quasthoff, Kim Kashkashian and other well-known soloists.
Prove of his technical facilities can be the fact, that he transcribed and edited Mozart's
Clarinet Concerto or Beethoven's third Cello Sonata for double bass and piano.
In a variety of different ensembles, Goloubev developed an almost intuitive musical
collaboration with the Israelian drummer Asaf Sirkis.
He has been living in London since 1999 and draw a good deal of attention to his playing as a
sideman – for example in the "Orient House Ensemble" led by his compatriot Gilad Atzmon,
as well as the leader of his own group called "The Inner Noise".
The youngest member is the only 24 year old, welsh born pianist Gwilym Simcock, presently
THE shooting star of the English jazz scene, who works also as a composer and French horn
player in the field of classic and jazz. He has also worked with Kenny Wheeler, Dave
Holland, Evan Parker, Norma Winstone and Lee Konitz, to name but a few.
Notwithstanding this diversity of influences - manifest in the person of Klaus Gesing, and
evident through the variety of different backgrounds of his co-musicians – the aim of this
quartet is not a multi-facetted demonstration of the richness of Europe's folk music tradition.
The topics that inspire Klaus Gesing and are being discussed in his music, are not of a
political, but of a highly personal nature: they reach from the first attempts to crawl on all
"fours" ("Force on Fours") of his now four year old son, a love poem ("An meiner Küsten
Strände", initially written for the composers collective "Ambitus") to the experience of saying
farewell to somebody ("To the Missing"). Klaus Gesing incorporates the ingredients of his
musical socialization into his own world of expression in order to distillate nothing else than
Klaus-Gesing-Music from it.
Therefore also a gregorian choral and a frequently played well-known jazz tune can be
integrated, without in the slightest altering the impression of unity, of a highly personal
The way in which Gesing treats John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" , how he hints at the melody
during the ballad-like introduction, how he respells it with his own harmonies and how he
reaches a completely different climax than the original: this can be taken as an instructive
example of how to find one's own voice in the realm of jazz: don't adopt the needs of
expression to the form, but the form to your needs of expression.
The name of the group "Heartluggage" may thus be read with a variety of interpretations:
Klaus Gesing, being the musical European that he undoubtedly is, has found the center, the
"Heimat" in himself.