Wolfgang Haffner, despite being a robust and often frenetic percussionist, strangely enough prefers an intimate sound, and chooses the right combo to bring it to life — a trio. A threesome that enthralled a packed house at Max Müller Bhavan on May 22. While the opening piece, Tubes, was essentially an aperitif, both in terms of the talent and vigour encompassing the threesome, the second offering, Faithless, told of something that happily threaded the entire evening: the oneness of the three.
Haffner’s flair for stoic harmony couldn’t have found a better practitioner than, as the famed percussionist himself admitted, “Germany’s best pianist”, Hubert Nuss — arguably the most technically accomplished to visit the city since Joachim Kühn in the 1990s. Having immediately impressed in the embryonic minutes of the concert with his subtle soldiering of tempo in the face of the Haffner’s percussive barrage, Shapes witnessed him display another, and once again subtly, ability as well: that of leading the changes in rhythm. An ability that found an able foil in Christian Diener’s bass. Diener, it appeared, drinks from the same well as Nuss: distantly affable, thankful as backbencher, yet with gravitas, making Wordless memorable with his zesty punctuations, deftly nursing Haffner’s delicate brush.
Weather Report founder, Joe Zawinul, found an apt eulogy in Star. This was the time when, ironically, Nuss finally unleashed the jazz sound, considering the late Austrian keyboardist is lionized largely for fusion. And everything else began to sound jazz-like as well. Haffner ensured that the piano combined Zawinul’s taste for sparse but rhythmic bass lines, allowing Diener his share of cheers, while his impassioned provocations complemented the tonal frenzy.
Ranging from the introspective to the ruminating to the odd touch of the sepulchral, Haffner’s patent emotions make him a thinking tunesmith. Admittedly, he employed a bit of floridity in The Flow, but reassuringly unencumbered by gimmickry. In fact, this and the following piece were Nuss’s moments. Having the gift of enticing even the slightest nuances from his instrument, with a sound that is both rich and harmonious, Nuss wove a net of fragile patterns, optimizing the latitude given to him by these unextravagant compositions. Truth be told, even Haffner’s otherwise breathless gusto proved a tad pesky when all that the ears wanted to consume was the pianist’s disarming intensity.
Haffner’s penchant for the reflective ensured that the concert ended very much the way it started: softly. The dewy Silent Wave, one of the gems of his latest album, Round Silence, proved a fitting sign-off, compelling a nimble interpretation of a piece that threw up Ness’s rhythmic simplicity, Diener’s comfort with tonal gravity, and Haffner’s melodic economy.