Recent Interviews and Writing
Praise for Shores Against Silence
New York, NY – On September 10, 2016, at 7:00 p.m. at Le Poisson Rouge, the Patrick Zimmerli Quartet, featuring Ethan Iverson, Chris Tordini, and John Hollenbeck, will present “Clockworks,” the conclusion of a compositional arc that began 25 years ago with the recording of Shores Against Silence by Zimmerli’s original quartet.
The music from Shores featured a highly complex approach to rhythm, harmony and form, and was both preoccupied with the jazz tradition and departing from it radically. The often extravagantly abstract music was always grounded in melody, and displayed an interest in extra musical sources such as mythology, the visual arts, and literature, that was uncommon at the time.
After simplifying his style and focusing on writing music for classical ensembles large and small, and then engaging in various genre-mixing adventures with collaborators ranging from Brad Mehldau to Luciana Souza, Zimmerli now revisits his early aesthetic investigations in “Clockworks,” commissioned by Chamber Music America.
Renewed interest in Shores Against Silence – which, circulating as an underground tape in the early 1990s, influenced such musicians as Ethan Iverson, Joshua Redman, and Rudresh Mahanthappa – has spurred Songlines Recordings to release the music commercially for the first time this November; Clockworks will be released in 2017 as a pendant CD.
This two-CD conversation between past and present, spanning a quarter-century’s worth of artistic exploration, offers a unique view on the evolution of musical and artistic ideas, and even on the changes in the society that brought them forth.
Clockworks is about scales of time: time within a beat, within a phrase, a movement, a piece, and within an oeuvre, over a span of decades. The piece itself modulates stylistically, as hallucinatory abstraction and glorious melody alternate, cohabit, and strive for preeminence. It also features an unusual dialogue between improvisation and composition, as both tightly controlled and very open passages are intermixed. More generally, the piece is about what it has been like to live in a changing social panorama from the late eighties through the present moment.
Praise for Aspects of Darkness and Light
Joshua Redman, Wigmore Hall, London – review
Backed by a string quartet, the jazz saxophonist premiered a new work by Patrick Zimmerli
~Financial Times, April 27, 2014
A quiet shimmer of high-note violins and a ghostly whistle of melody opened the evening’s concert, which was part of the Wigmore’s ongoing Joshua Redman-curated jazz series. The presentation was the world premiere of composer/arranger Patrick Zimmerli’s Aspects of Darkness and Light, and the brief introduction immediately captured the playful textural ambiguities of its central theme.
The evening progressed as a folio of short pieces that interwove saxophonist Redman’s jazz skills with the technically adroit Escher String Quartet, supported by light-touch bass-and-percussion rhythm. Each composition represented different manifestations of light, the moods encapsulated by such titles as “Starbursts and Heroes” – an abstract ballad followed by rousing triple-time strings – “Sun on Sand” and “Through Mist.”
“Between Dog and Wolf”, a translation from a French expression meaning the time between day and night, opened with boogie-shuffle cymbals and an optimistic theme that was tossed from Redman to the strings. There was a violin break, a country-esque reel and much in between. “Dark Light” featured a lovely Scott Colley bass solo and a funky theme, sensuous slides of violins and a burst of up-tempo jazz.
Zimmerli takes familiar elements from 19th-century classical music and the standard sequences of jazz and pop, adds ethnic influences and has a sharp talent for a catchy tune. In this, his music is somewhat cinematic. His motifs are meticulously developed and his textures atmospheric, yet at the Wigmore, where he conducted, he seemed a little diffident about the mix of genres: “I’m not quite sure what I’m doing tonight,” he announced after the first number, “Flash.”
But the way he integrates disparate elements, and the individual strengths of the musicians involved meant there was no need to worry. Redman contributed a focused sax sound with harmonic precision and a strong sense of swing, while percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, seated on the floor, combined orthodox jazz cymbals with the rattles of rimless taiko drums and the tympanum-like sounds of a frame drum.
With boundaries blurred even familiar idioms could surprise. The zippy finale, “Fireworks”, deftly captured the lulls and highs of a pyrotechnic display, its cross-pollinated ensemble virtuosities and features for all winning Redman and Co. a deserved encore.
The music combines short interludes and vignettes with more complex structures. There was a wide range moods and styles in the quartet writing, from passages reminiscent of Bartok and Janacek in a piece like Through Mist to Copland and Ives Americana in First Light. Two of the interludes had a boldly stated melody on a lower instrument pitted against frenetic high harmonics. Other devices from the string trick-box were smears and scordatura. The Escher Quartet traversed the styles and captured the shifting moods with energy and panache…I thought that there were two bits of very good news about the evening. The revelation – for me – was percussionist Satoshi Takeishi. Sitting unobtrusively at floor level, he managed to get a sound in the Wigmore Hall which completely balanced with all of the instrumental combinations round him, was always additive, never intrusive or overpowering. His anchoring of time with Scott Colley was an exercise in quiet excellence…The other good news is that this was probably one of the youngest audiences ever seen at a Wigmore Hall concert.
Patrick Zimmerli – “Composing is a question of energy”: Between New York and Paris, jazz and classical music, American composer Patrick Zimmerli refuses to choose. Meeting with a balancing of sound.
~Pluris, November 23, 2013
Interview with Patrick Zimmerli – The poem became music / music of poetry
~The Literary Cause, July 9, 2013
Navigating Surely (With a Steady Horn) Between Quartet and Orchestra: Joshua Redman at Town Hall
~The New York Times, June 6, 2013
Praise for Modern Music
Sounds Heard: Mehldau-Hays-Zimmerli—Modern Music
~New Music Box, October 18, 2011
Patrick Zimmerli, whose role on Modern Music is more amorphous, perhaps requires a slightly longer introduction. An impressive saxophonist and band-leader, Zimmerli’s quartet session Twelve Sacred Dances, released in 1998, was one of the discographical highlights of the Chriss brothers’ late lamented A&R tenure at Arabesque Records. While the compositions on the album were clearly platforms for a heady interplay between Zimmerli’s tenor sax, percussionist John Hollenbeck and two thirds of The Bad Plus (pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Reid Anderson), the music’s harmonic vocabulary—as well as its frequent contrapuntal layering of timbres—might occasionally fool less-than-completely-attentive listeners into thinking they’re hearing a new music ensemble reading through a complex contemporary score. A later Arabesque release featuring two piano trios (that is, the classical piano trio of violin, cello, and piano as opposed to the jazz piano trio of piano, bass, and drums) reveals Zimmerli’s thorough adeptness at bona fide score-based composition for performers other than himself (on the recording Scott Yoo, Michael Mermagen, and John Novacek). On close listen, though, the music has a recognizable jazz tinge; in fact, at times it’s ironically more overtly swing-oriented than Twelve Sacred Dances. But if those two albums revealed a creator who was at the same time a jazz-inspired classical composer and a contemporary classical-minded jazzer, the lines get even more blurry on Phoenix, a Songlines disc from 2005. Therein Zimmerli combines his saxophone (this time a soprano) with a jazz piano trio (the one that’s piano, bass, and drums), a string quartet, and electronics to boot, creating music that’s at times contemporary jazz, at times a chamber orchestra, and at times techno-sounding…This particular project was instigated by Zimmerli even though Mehldau and Hays—who had never previously appeared on record together—have traveled in the same circles since the late ’80s and wanted to collaborate for a very long time. In addition to producing the session, Zimmerli also determined what repertoire Mehldau and Hays recorded, although to describe his contribution above all else as the person who “composed and arranged” the music seems slightly misleading to me. Originally the idea was for Mehldau and Hays to perform arrangements by Zimmerli of pieces of modern classical music. The project began with them performing an arrangement of Richard Strauss’s late composition Metamorphosen. Other pieces originally intended for similar treatment were Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa, Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, and Philip Glass’s String Quartet No. 5. In addition, a jazz standard was chosen (Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman”) and each of the pianists were also asked to contribute an original piece. In the end, the Strauss, Pärt, and Gorecki wound up on the proverbial cutting room floor, and Zimmerli composed a total of four originals for the project. However, since there are a total of nine tracks on the final album, that means that most of the music herein was not composed by Zimmerli...But if one is to assign an auteur to this project it would probably still have to be Zimmerli since the curating of the repertoire is perhaps the single most important ingredient here. There is a remarkable consistency of compositional voice throughout, despite there being six composers involved in total. Zimmerli’s own compositions, in particular the title track and the disc’s opener (“Crazy Quilt”), prove that a musical goldmine can result when minimalist compositional processes are subjected to improvisational whimsy. Although perhaps there’s no more undeniable evidence for that than to hear what Zimmerli gets Mehldau and Hays to do with the opening chord sequence of Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. Robert Fripp once commented that while he enjoyed Reich’s music, its preconception lacked “the random factor, the factor of hazard.”
By further blurring the lines between composition, performance, and authorship, Mehldau, Hays, and Zimmerli have certainly added that hazard factor. Whose music it is will ultimately depend on what context you bring to it, but wherever you’re coming from it will change the way you think about things.
“Modern Music” – Nonesuch Release
September 20, 2011
Brad Mehldau & Kevin Hays: Modern Music
A beguiling and richly detailed piano duet produced and arranged by composer Patrick Zimmerli
~Financial Times, September 17, 2011
Brad Mehldau and Kevin Hays’ beguiling and richly detailed piano duet balances intimate exploration with the precision of formal composition. The two pianists swap phrases and enrich each other’s palette with the confidence of old acquaintances, but it is the overarching sense of form that adds lustre. The album was produced and arranged by composer Patrick Zimmerli and his scores ensure clean lines and a minimum of fuss. All three collaborators provide originals, and Reich, Glass and Ornette Coleman’s ‘Lonely Woman’ are covered.
On Common Ground: The Pairing of Piano Men
~The New York Times, September 16, 2011
“Modern Music” (Nonesuch), featuring Brad Mehldau and Kevin Hays, is a less joyous album, perhaps because it carries the burden of an agenda. It’s also the greater achievement. Mr. Mehldau and Mr. Hays, both in their early 40s, don’t have to work to find common ground, so they focus instead on bringing a high sheen to some choice material: one repurposed original each; potent adaptations of works by Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Ornette Coleman; and four intricate pieces by Patrick Zimmerli.
That last name appears on the album cover, and for good reason: Mr. Zimmerli, a product of the same high school jazz program as Mr. Mehldau, is responsible for the album’s stern, ingenious arrangements, which reflect his foothold in contemporary classical music. Mr. Zimmerli’s writing is intricately plotted; where there’s space for improvisation he lays useful traps, seeking to thwart the reflexive fluency of his players. Still, in the end what you notice isn’t Mr. Zimmerli’s invisible hand, or even the four belonging to Mr. Mehldau and Mr. Hays. What sticks out is the feverish concentration of the whole enterprise, along with an idea long espoused, convincingly, by Mr. Corea: that it’s all music, flowing heedlessly across the boundaries of style.
Modern Music, the collaborative recording between longtime colleagues and jazz pianists Brad Mehldau and Kevin Hays, and composer and arranger Patrick Zimmerli (a mutual friend of both) is startling for its deep reliance on modern classical technique and arrangements. Certainly, Mehldau is known for dabbling in all sorts of music, from pop to classical on his recordings and in live performance. Hays, too, has branched out in recent years, from his signature, intelligent, hard swinging post-bop approach to include compositions with modern classical touches, such as those found on Piano Works, Vol. III. Zimmerli, who wrote the charts for this session, played saxophone in his younger years. He composed and chose the lion’s share of the material. Three pieces are by Zimmerli, while Mehldau and Hays contribute one each; there are also readings of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman,” an excerpt from Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians,” and one from Philip Glass’ “String Quartet No. 5.” Those seeking a jazz recording should look elsewhere; even Coleman’s standard is overly formal, with Mehldau (right channel) playing the melody in various voicings as Hays creates pulsing rhythmic and harmonic patterns in the middle and high registers. The latter begins to swing a bit toward the middle of the tune as Mehldau takes the rhythm line, but even here, the counterpoint dialogue Hays creates moves it far from the beautiful, droning center of Coleman’s work. The section from Reich’s work, which attempts, in its way, to imitate the mallet instruments, isn’t nearly as forceful or convincing. Those complaints aside, Zimmerli’s compositions, sauch as “Crazy Quilt,” “Modern Music,” and “Generatrix,” with their busy palettes, intricate cross-keyboard dialogues, and contrapuntal studies are all deeply satisfying. His sense of melody is found in rhythmic approaches; his stuttering half-steps and tonal shifts are especially notable for their ability to play off both pianist’s technical and melodic gifts, for all their busy-ness. Hays’ “Elegia,” too, for its seeming moodiness is more pastoral than one would gather by its title. In sum, Modern Music totals what its title promises, it’s not a jazz album, but one in which new considerations of harmonic composition and intra-instrument dialogue are readily apparent and delivered upon with discipline as well as verve.
“This recent release is my first encounter with the name and music of Patrick Zimmerli. The notes accompanying the recording offer little biographical or background information, but a bit of research on the Internet reveals that he was born in 1968 in New York City, and graduated from Columbia University, where he studied with Fred Lerdahl. It appears that he is somewhat better known as a jazz saxophonist than as a composer of ‘concert music’; his Web site offers a backdrop of static ‘sonic environment’ music. But neither of these conceptual strands suggests the music found on the compact disc submitted for review. // Having listened several times now to both these piano trios, I must say that they are simply sensational! Both works were composed between the years 2001–03, and they are similar enough that my reactions really apply to both of them more or less equally. (Presumably, differences will emerge with greater familiarity.) To begin with the basics: each work comprises four movements and lasts approximately half an hour. Both strongly reflect a derivation in the ethos, aesthetics, rhetoric, and general style of the piano trios of Brahms: strongly potent statements that seem to reach beyond the intimate composure of conventional classical chamber music to a near-symphonic grandeur, while retaining a strong connection to their classical formal roots. This gives the music a much more conservative profile than that of, say, Paul Moravec, another excellent traditionalist composer championed by Arabesque and recently discussed in these pages. Zimmerli’s own program notes speak of his mixing classical and jazz idioms in both works, but I don’t hear it that way at all. To my ears, he has simply infused his language with many of the developments in harmony that evolved during the 20th century. Let me hasten to add that this is to its distinct advantage: I have always found jazz–classical hybrids—especially those with elevated pretensions, that alternate back and forth between the two poles—to be contrived, self–conscious, and exceedingly tedious gimmicks—more concerned with their concept than with their substance. I suppose one might point to Zimmerli’s expanded harmonic language as overlapping somewhat with the language of jazz, and I guess he must see it that way; but it is all thoroughly integrated into one very cogent means of expression. // Both trios start with sonata allegro movements of tremendous emotional force and unflagging urgency, while the subsequent movements maintain an extraordinarily high level of interest. The music is motivically driven, contrapuntally strong, melodically generous, and vigorously rhythmic. The instrumental writing shows great proficiency (the Scherzo of Trio No. 2 is a dazzling workout for the violinist). Both works offer wholly satisfying musical experiences that leave one eager to learn what else this relatively young composer has to offer. Not to be overlooked is the quality of the performances, which feature the members of the Seattle Chamber Music Society, who commissioned and premiered both works. They play with technical brilliance, emotional exuberance, and whole–hearted conviction. Highly recommended.” —Walter Simmons
Fanfare Magazine Releases of the Year
“This year I was able to arrive at only four recent releases that met my criteria of great, little–known recent repertoire, beautifully performed, and superbly recorded… Patrick Zimmerli, born in 1968, is the youngest composer cited here. Although he is active as a jazz musician, his two piano trios (reviewed in 29:4) are highly traditional in style, harking back to similar works by Brahms. However, Zimmerli speaks through his models with such urgency and authenticity that the results are irresistibly compelling, while their impact is enhanced by these virtuosic performances.”
Fanfare Magazine (again!)
“I’m afraid this review requires a longish lead-in: About 15 years ago, I reviewed a lot of new music for Fanfare. That diminished for two reasons: most important, we were fortunate to get a few young composers to write for us; I certainly could not match Robert Carl’s knowledge and feeling for new music. It was also the case that the directions of new compositions changed, at least of those that got recorded. The long fight against modernity and complexity finally won out, to my dismay, and I thought that a great deal of what was appearing sounded watered down, even dishonest, as if it really were written just to please the public, or at least to avoid offending it. Of course, I could have been dead wrong; perhaps it was just my reaction, not the composers’ intentions, so I didn’t want to write about it. I really love the complex, dense, serious music written throughout the second half of the 20th century: Dutilleux, Henze, Erb, Tsontakis . . . not serialism per se, but some of its purveyors. // The point of all this is that the 21st-century music on this disc convinces me. It does have qualities that should please an audience, yet I feel certain the composer is writing for himself. On the one hand, it is old-fashioned: a pair of four-movement piano trios, no less! On the other hand, I find it all original, serious, and well written. There is a lot of jazz lurking in the background, often in the foreground as well; nevertheless, it sounds like serious, formal music, though not like any one composer, nor any combination of them. The Allegros are wild, often furious—they must be hell to play—and the slow music is lyrical without being maudlin. The music is conventionally tonal, at least to my ears, so happily accustomed to dissonance, polytonality, even atonality; but it does contain a lot of interesting harmonic action. Variety abounds, within movements as well as between them, yet I sense a consistent, satisfying whole. Is this, then, easy music? No, it is still dense and often complex (remember Beethoven?), but it has a vibrant spirit that comes across at first hearing. Although these trios sound nothing like Brahms, they create the kind of excitement one hears in gung-ho performances of the Brahms Piano Quintet, such as that by Leon Fleisher. These three young musicians, too, give a gung-ho performance: virtuosic, confident, and focused. They obviously know the music well; it’s hard to imagine a better representation of these works. The recording is all one could desire. // In his notes to this disc, Patrick Zimmerli tells us nothing about himself, only his music. The accompanying promo material says he received a B.A. from Columbia University in 1990, so that would put him in his mid-thirties now, unless he was a child prodigy, which he well may have been. He studied composition with Fred Lerdahl and earned a D.M.A. in composition in 2000. A freelance jazz saxophonist, Zimmerli splits his life between the two musical poles that he melds so smoothly here. The trios were written in 2001–02 and 2003. // I realize that we at Fanfare are prone to say that a disc is a must for every collection, so I won’t. But if my first paragraph evokes any sympathetic response in you, this may be the time to jump.” —James H. North
Fanfare Well-Crafted and Played: There’s Plenty of Life in the Piano Trios
Well-crafted and played: there’s plenty of life in the piano trios. The first thing to hit you is the rhythm—a cascading flow that sweeps all before it. Then you start noticing what else has been caught up in the flow—exotic pentatonic modes, jazzy syncopations, jagged faux-Arabic metrical constructions, even enough pop-tune motifs to keep listeners on their toes. If it weren’t for the instrumentation and fairly classsical structures, you could at times almost imagine a jazz set. Though not exactly mirror images these trios commissioned by the Seattle Chamber Music Festival make perfect companions for a disc-length programme. An amazingly broad range of musical and emotional resources unfold with nearly unerring sense of balance and when to change course…” —Ken Smith, Gramophone Magazine
“”The notes accompanying this sixth release from Patrick Zimmerli, a New York-based composer/saxophonist, give no hint of when he may have fallen to earth from parts unknown, bringing with him an unclassifiable mix of jazz, strings, and electronics. The set opens with the dreamlike landscape of M, which is dramatically revisited later mid-set with Kevin Hays’ piano carrying the theme, only to re-emerge in more subdued fashion for the finale. Subsequently Hays turns positively frolicksome in the company of Zimmerli’s sax and Satoshi Takeishi’s percussion on Only Surround. Overall the swirls and clouds of sound that emerge in the set are varied expressions of Zimmerli’s adventurousness. Styles are mixed, unrestricted by the boundaries of traditional categories like jazz or classical. Most of the pieces are Zimmerli compositions dominated by the interplay between electronic and acoustic instruments. Yet the bossa nova rhythms of Jobim’s How Insensitive, floating gently on violins, sax, and piano, also fit quite nicely here. Away From You is a jaunty, sax-led acoustic trip, not unlike Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite as it might have evolved had it been played by violins spiked by just a tad of acid. Each of these pieces creates its own mood. The common thread throughout is a real sense of commitment in to exploring fresh possibilities.” —Andrew Velez
Audiophile Audition Magazine
“”Zimmerli, a NYC-based musician, says this is the most experimental of the six CDs he has done, but it should appeal to listeners in many different areas. He has combined his sax, piano and electric bass with a string quartet and synths to create a rich and varied sonic tapestry influenced by many different elements. There is creative interplay of the electronic instruments with the acoustic ones, some touches of ambient music, minimalist approaches, and Middle Eastern music. My personal favorite jazz album has long been Stan Getz’ Focus, which escapes the usual corny solo-instrument-and-strings genre with the imaginative compositions of Eddie Sauter. Zimmerli gives us a 21st-century version of that project, which benefits from his experiences in not only the jazz world but also classical, electronic, popular and film music. One track is not his original, and I think it’s the most tasteful arrangement of the bossa nova hit How Insensitive that I’ve ever laid ears on. He states that he can’t escape from pop music and wouldn’t want to because there is so much creative work going on in it today. What he aims for is ‘a contemporary, aesthetically viable, pan-stylistic art music.’ Quite a mouthful – but sit back and bathe in the striking sounds that surround you in this audiophile-quality 5.0 SACD mix and the terminology will be secondary…” —John Henry
“…an impressive accomplishment….Whether from the point of view of Zimmerli’s compositions, which are complex and rich especially in terms of rhythm, or the high quality of the performances, which must have been an absolute bear given such tricky material, The Book of Hours is a mighty success…[Zimmerli’s] a composer with an outstanding ear for layers and a personal way of creating transformations within a given piece, and he’s an excellent soprano saxophonist.” —John Corbett
“…intriguing, often quirky strokes of modernistic composition…” —John McDonough
“Impressive stuff.” —Jim Macnie
“Fresh writing couples with strong ensemble work from saxophonist Zimmerli. Each song, much like the one that precedes it, is a marvel of group cohesion…” —John Ephland
Jazz Weekly Magazine
“A superior exercise in chamber jazz…Moving faultlessly through a variety of time signatures, harmonies, melodies and compositional colors, the band members play their parts seemingly without a note out of place…Zimmerli has taken the outlines of a pious ceremony and used compositional alchemy to make the multi-movement suite both secular and energetic…” —Jeff Kaiser
“…the album presents music of great beauty and melodicism; Zimmerli employs often bright and crisp colors and textures (fully realized here by the ten likeminded musicians of Octurn), and there is also a warmth that suggests the post-Gil Evans approaches of a composer like Maria Schneider. In short, The Book of Hours is engaging and accessible throughout…listeners with a non-traditional streak should find favor in the polyphonic complexity of Zimmerli’s scores, which avoid the typical head-solos-head structures of much conventional jazz (the canon-like “Interlude” segments have a particularly strong classical influence, beginning in duet form and adding instruments cumulatively during trio, quartet, and sextet iterations interspersed among the other album tracks). Thematic material (signifying the many moods of a passing day) is stated and restated in variation as soloists enter and exit against an always surprising and involving backdrop – this is music that could keep even the most dedicated avant-gardist on his or her toes with its constantly evolving permutations…Zimmerli’s music can be bold, energetic, and propulsive (”Night”), yet it often maintains a subtle and understated quality; even the seemingly highly improvised dialogue between baritone saxophone and percussion on “Noon” suggests a conversation rather than a shouting match. As for Zimmerli the saxophonist, his soprano solo on the lovely “Sleep” that concludes the disc is a thing of true beauty and one of the album’s most striking improvisational moments, even as the piece tends to calm rather than excite the listener’s heart…” —Dave Lynch
For more press, visit the archived site.