“Croon” reviewed by Peter Margasak

Peter Margasak reviews Brad Henkel’s solo album, “Croon” on his blog Nowhere Street.

Trumpeter Brad Henkel is one of the more elusive figures on Berlin’s improvised music scene, a New Yorker who works in various jazz-oriented ensembles while digging into more experimental explorations of pure sound. He’s not especially prolific when it comes to recordings, and since moving to Berlin in 2017 there have only been a handful of albums documenting his work here. And most of them, such as his terrific 2020 duo album with fellow trumpeter Jacob Wick, weren’t even made with musicians based in the city. I haven’t heard a recent trio album he made with Berlin-based drummer Sam Hall and New York guitarist Dustin Carlson called Recoil (Aut) He’s a friendly fellow who doesn’t seem especially solitary, although that’s the context of his recent album Croon (Neither Nor), which dropped in late March.

The album’s credits are sparse, so I can’t say exactly what he’s doing on the acerbic opener “Bay,” which features a pair of overdubbed lines using what sounds like a saxophone reed attached to his horn, but he digs deep, unleashing a decidedly harsh dialogue of extended techniques. Check it out for yourself, below. Other pieces evoke a more familiar experimental trumpet language one might associate with locals as disparate as Axel Dörner, Liz Allbee, and Mazen Kerbaj. “Whir” is built around unpitched breaths and puckered extreme upper register cries, but Henkel spontaneously assembles them cogently and dramatically, toggling between polarities with rhythmic disruption and forceful execution. On the gorgeous title track he reveals a purer, more jazz-oriented focus, applying his creamy tone within a fluid series of melodic elaborations marked by post-bop swoops and agile flurries, while I love the fragile whistling that careens with guttural low-end, percussive valve clacking and popping, and spittle-flecked drones on “Chant.”

Henkel plays solo twice in the coming week. On Thursday, May 11 he plays an opening set at KM28, followed by the local new music group Apparat (which in this instance is Weston Olencki on trombone and electronics, tackling “Bury Me Deep” by British composer and Distractfold member Sam Salem. He’ll play solo again on Sunday, May 14 at Kapelle am Urban, beginning at 7:45 PM sharp. It’s part of a double bill, in which he’ll also play amplified trumpet in a duo with Miako Klein on amplified recorders.