The title "Heart of the Matter" of Wolfgang Haffner's latest
album is definitely more than just a play on words.
For Germany's most highly decorated drummer, including the Echo
Jazz 2010 award, his profession has been "a matter of the heart"
ever since he began his career at the tender age of 18 in Albert
Mangelsdorff's band. The work that followed for innumerable
German and international stars and his participation on more
than 400 albums bears witness to this. But only since he started
recording his own albums as an ACT artist has he felt close to
the "heart of the matter": "I don't see myself as just a drummer
anymore, but as a universal musician. I compose, arrange, seek
out and enter worlds of sound. That is my thing."
So "Heart of the Matter" is a logical continuation of the path
that Haffner took with his previous albums "Shapes", "Acoustic
Shapes" and "Round Silence": Again it is about organic, calm
music with a strong groove, substantial melodies full of colour
and space. "I have found a sound for myself; one that
corresponds to me. And yet each time I progress a little further.
This time I discovered new instrumentation possibilities and the
inclusion of voices," says Haffner. Perhaps the change of
scenery played a part. Haffner composed most of "Round
Silence" on Formentera. Now he has been living in Ibiza since
2010. "When you sit by the sea, the moods and inspirations
come to you on their own." So it is easy to deduce where titles
such as "Nacho" and "Island Life" came from, which form a kind
of framework for the ten tracks on the album.
The compositions are one thing, how they are played
another. This is where Haffner gets back what he has given
other musicians for so many years. The core of the team that
Haffner gathered together in the well-known Berlin Hansa
Studios – where artists the likes of David Bowie, u2 and
Depeche Mode produced their hits – is made up of old
companions: From trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist
Sebastian Studnitzky, who already played on "Shapes" and
"Round Silence", to keyboarder Eythor Gunnarsson, the
Icelandic megaband Mezzoforte, whose album "Forward
Motion" Haffner produced in 2004, through to Sting guitarist
Dominic Miller. How it came about that Miller played all the
acoustic guitar on the album is indicative of the production as a
whole: "We had the studio for three days," Haffner recalls,
"Dominic was on the way back home from London and actually
only had the first day free. But on the second day he just came
back in and said "I'm staying. I love it." And then he even stayed
for the third day."
Just one of many similar stories. For example, the world
famous bass baritone Thomas Quasthoff, whose solo jazz
evenings Haffner accompanied as drummer, absolutely wanted
to be involved, as Haffner recounts: "Just as he was planning his
retirement from the concert circuit, I told him I would be going
into the studio soon. He immediately asked: "And where's the
track I'm singing on?" And despite all his teaching duties, he
came to the studio right away. It was important to me that he
didn't just sing some token song: I wanted to use him as an
instrument with his timbres and fascinating percussion sounds.
He hadn't done that before on any album, and I think it worked
out amazingly on "Melodia del Viento"."
Till Brönner, who doesn't actually do guest appearances, also
made an exception for his old friend, and plays the flugelhorn
solo on "Here’s To Life". The track from Artie Butler is not only
extraordinary because it is one of the rare cover versions on a
Haffner album: "The song has been a going concern for Till and
me since we recorded “Love" in New York in 1998, his first
album for Verve, sung by Shirley Horne. A fantastic number! I'd
been wanting to do something with that song for years, but
without vocals. When I spoke to Till about it and asked him for
the music, he said: "Why don't you just let me play it on the
horn? We've been stuck for what to do with this number for 15
years now; I just want to play it." Chuck Loeb had also played on
Brönner's album "Love". Wolfgang Haffner had introduced the
American guitarist to Brönner at the time. Now his distinctive
electric guitar can be heard on two tracks on "Heart of the
A long-time mutual admiration also connects Haffner and
Götz Alsmann, who can be heard as accordionist on "Between
A Smile And A Tear". At the Echo Jazz 2010 awards, Haffner
took the stage for the first time together with singer Céline
Rudolph. That was when they had the idea to do something
together. The guest appearances of clarinettist Magnus
Lindgren, singer and percussionist Andrew Lovell, aka Shovell
and known as a member of the English band M-People,
similarly come under the category of a "favour from a friend".
Everyone on ‘Heart of the Matter’ is connected some way.
None of them were just booked. We're all friends", Haffner
summarises. This is probably the key reason why it all sounds
like a band situation, like live jazz spirit, why the album lives and
breathes. Together they have advanced to the musical heart of
things the way Wolfgang Haffner sees them.
Wolfgang Haffner / drums, progr., backing voc.
Dominic Miller / acoustic guitar, e-guitar
Sebastian Studnitzky / trumpet, keys, backing voc.
Eythor Gunnarsson / fender rhodes, piano, synth
Nicolas Fiszman / bass
Bruno Müller / e-guitar
Götz Alsmann / accordion
Till Brönner / flugelhorn
Magnus Lindgren / clarinet
Chuck Loeb / e-guitar
Thomas Quasthoff / vocals
Céline Rudolph / vocals
Shovell / vocals, percussion
Norbert Nagel / alto flute, flute, clarinet
Mark Wyand / tenor sax, flute, clarinet
Sören Fischer / trombone