Johannes Wallmann ‘Elegy for an Undiscovered Species’ CD (Shifting Paradigm) 5/5

‘Elegy for an Undiscovered Species’ marks the brand new album from pianist and composer Johannes Wallmann released through Shifting Paradigm Records.

Wallmann’s elegant new project marks his second through Shifting Paradigm – following 2018’s ‘Day and Night’ – and his ninth album overall which has positioned the pianist as a bandleader. A decorated and revered musician and educator, the entirety of this article could genuinely be spent recounting Johannes Wallmann’s glowing résumé and singling out his seemingly endless list of achievements to date.

Born in Germany and raised in Canada, Johannes Wallmann studied jazz piano and composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston and at New York University; he currently resides as the Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, as previously mentioned, with nine albums credited to him as a bandleader since the self-titled The Johannes Wallmann Quartet in 1997, Wallmann can boast album releases through Shifting Paradigm as well as on the Fresh Sound New Talent record label.

Recorded at the Hamel Music Center, February 2020, ‘Elegy for an Undiscovered Species’ introduces Wallmann’s quintet as comprised by Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Allison Miller on drums, Nick Moran on bass and Dayna Stephens on saxophone, with Wallmann of course credited on piano and composition. Already a quintet showcasing world-class talent, exquisite textures and dimensions are further introduced throughout the seven-track recordings courtesy of the fourteen-person string orchestra – a notable inclusion that, at times through such an understated presence, adds such beautiful depth to songs like the album’s title track and ‘Two Ears Old’, while boasting a more central role for other of the album’s tracks.

‘Expeditor’ delivers as another of the album’s highlights – a track that boasts numerous standout moments within its own ten minutes’ length, no less from Nick Moran’s bass work which teases traces of a grittier funk number lurking within it and Ingrid Jensen’s trumpet which finds itself comfortably interweaving a sublime 70s soul aesthetic into the proceedings. A real joy.

In keeping with many of Shifting Paradigm’s album artworks, the distinction is once again bestowed to trumpeter and Shifting Paradigm label mate, Jamie Breiwick, whose B Side Graphics business has also helmed album covers for the label’s past releases including Andrea Scala’s ‘Coming Back, Leaving Again’, Tony Barba’s ‘Blood Moon’ and Devin Drobka Trio’s ‘Resorts’.

An album developed over the course of two years, ‘Elegy for an Undiscovered Species’ is a wonderful piece of music from start to finish. A real celebration of styles and genres and for any artist fortunate enough to deliver their ninth album, to still do so with such a thoughtful and innovative approach to their music is really an inspiring thing so this is a project that will rank forever highly amongst Johannes Wallmann’s – and Shifting Paradigm’s – catalogue.

Imran Mirza