It is scarcely two years since everything suddenly went quiet, and we all found ourselves living in a “Silent World”. For Wolfgang Haffner, the most prominent German drummer of our time, things came to a particularly abrupt halt, not least because his regular schedule is so packed and his habitual work-rate is so prolific. He is normally travelling across all five continents, playing with stellar artists from all kinds of genres; his own exceptional craft as a drummer is to be heard on no fewer than 400 albums. Fortunately, however, Haffner has always considered himself to be at least as much a composer as he is a drummer, so once he had absorbed the initial shock of being grounded at home…taken long walks…watched a lot of TV…it was completely natural that he should devote himself to writing music. And, for once, he wasn’t having to fit it in between other commitments, but could set about it in a concentrated way. “In the normal course of things, everything I do comes with a built-in sense of urgency to get it done and over with. But now, thrown entirely onto my own resources, and without any background noise to distract me, I was able to ask myself what I actually wanted to do. What my own personal imprint looks like.” It is logical, therefore, that the album which has resulted from this unique time should be called “Silent World”.
It will especially delight fans who love to hear Haffner on his own terms. This dreamer in sound is able to combine groove and bounce with an extravagant sound palette, plus the power of simple melodies, and to bring it all together in a way which is unmistakably his. And he always creates a special kind of tension. In recent times, Haffner has drawn inspiration from external sources: In his “Kind of” trilogy, he dealt with cool jazz, the tango and the music of the country he adopted for a time as his home, Spain; in his “Dream Band”, his guests contributed many pieces and influences. Now, however, he has concentrated on his own sound world once more. This excursion into it is even more radical than “Shapes”, “Round Silence” or “Heart of the Matter”, albums which put down the markers to define his highly individual sound.
“Silent World” is about the essentials of being human, a message which Haffner signals clearly with concise track titles such as “The Peace Inside”, “Hope” or “Belief”. Sometimes we’re in the world of hymns, sometimes of dreams, but there is always a melody to be grasped and a pulse to be felt, and those points of reference give a basis for the listener to focus and to enjoy the music thoroughly.
Less is often more here, and it was precisely this sense of clarity and simplicity that Haffner knew he could achieve in the studio. To this purpose he gathered a nucleus of kindred spirits around him: his long-time companion on the bass, Thomas Stieger; his closest confidant from recent years, Simon Oslender, whose total mastery of grand piano, keyboards and organ is something very rare. His newest discovery is Alma Naidu: she deploys her naturally angelic timbre like an instrumental voice, and she is to be heard on four tracks. Finally there is the innovative trumpeter Sebastian Studnitzky; he has been a regular feature of Haffner’s most deeply personal music.
Together with Haffner, these musicians give us the foundations over which some of the drummer’s more illustrious friends are able to make their star quality shine. The opening number “Here and Now” builds inexorably, with saxophonist Bill Evans playing some jubilant soprano. On “The Peace Inside”, an ethereal flugelhorn meditation by Till Brönner takes centre stage. On “Rise and Fall” Nils Landgren gives us his uniquely lyrical trombone sound. For the gently wafting “Faro”, Sting guitarist Dominic Miller contributes a filigree acoustic guitar solo. All of the tracks except “Belief” and “Faro” come from Haffner’s most recent burst of compositional activity. “Faro” is from the sessions for “Heart of the Matter”. “Whereas it felt unfinished to me at that time,” Haffner explains, “it now fits perfectly into this project.”
What started as a labour of love has ended up as a concept album with a thread running through it. Haffner elaborates: “I wanted to have a continuous flow. I wrote a total of eighteen pieces, and these nine are the ones which fit together the best, without any repeats or breaks in the mood.” In other words, “Silent World” has a special strength about it which comes from calm. And an irresistible progression from “Here and Now” all the way through to “Forever and Ever”, the latter a minimalist finale with just piano and bass, a lovely moment avoiding any portentous heaviness.
Rather than choosing to respond to challenging times by burying his head in the sand, Wolfgang Haffner has continued to create and to develop. “The album is about having a commitment to life,” he says, “and a return to the origins.” “Silent World” is the antidote for a world which is in the process of speeding up again, and is doing so far too fast.
Wolfgang Haffner / drums
Simon Oslender / piano & keyboards
Thomas Stieger / bass (except 05 & 10)
Sebastian Studnitzky / trumpet
Bill Evans / soprano sax (01)
Till Brönner / flugelhorn (04)
Nils Landgren / trombone (08)
Dominic Miller / guitar (05)
Mitchel Forman / lead synth (02)
Eythor Gunnarsson / rhodes & synth (10)
Alma Naidu / vocals (01 – 03 & 08)
Rhani Krija / percussion (04 & 05)
Bruno Müller / e-guitar (01 & 10)
Nicolas Fiszman / bass (05 & 10)
Norbert Nagel & Marc Wyand / tenor sax, flute & clarinet (05 & 10)