Norbert Stein

Masterful impressionism at work

cd coverGerman tenor saxophonist Norbert Stein is a distinguished composer and leader. He can prompt laughter, despair, and mesmerize the listener via regimented arrangements, sparked by difficult time signatures and multilayered sound mosaics. A self-described patamusician, inferring the Pataphysics movement started in 1948 by French playwright Alfred Jarry, Stein proffers an existential realm of thought, equated to Pata's science of imaginary solutions.

The artist's long-running band essentially pulls out the stops throughout this affair, brimming with attractive melodies, semi-classical discourses and free-form abstractions. Hence, masterful impressionism at work, as the musicians' institute a hodgepodge of soaring cadenzas amid a flexible and synchronous gait, where absolute power and melancholic tenderness enjoy an equal playing field.

One of Stein's trademark musical configurations pertain to the geometrical cadences, and unanticipated detours he unites into his compositional framework. His music is also linear and expansive in scope. For instance on "In a Man's Mind," the ensemble forges a free-form jazz and chamber vibe, driven by Michael Heupel's contemplative flute lines within a relatively simple harmonic format. Featuring intricate metrics the band toggles between convention and a nonconforming baseline. Space is used to launch an entry point for subsequent movements, catapulted by mini horns dialogues, restraint, or tonal shifts that provide vehicles for other sub-parts. However, it must be noted that Stein's music is by no means a train-wreck. It's primarily about the musicians' cohesion, whether steeped in swing, bop, and free-bop or lyrically charged thematic excursions, crowned by a formidable rhythmic unit and the hornists' dynamic exchanges.

"Nondual Action" is a piece built on a swaggering rock groove, intensified by harmonium performer Nicolao Valiensi's badass solo excursion, veering towards little big band type horns choruses. On "Dinka Mood," they fuse a swirling classical-jazz motif, hued with somber passages and topped off by Heupel's fiery phrasings as Stein's fluent lines help generate a sense of unbridled energy. This arrangement also includes Euro-folk stylizations and cascading thematic persuasions.

The album insert shows a photo of an automobile junkyard with demolished autos stacked high. Thus, Stein spins junk into gold with this supreme effort that entertains from start to finish. His muse is largely unclassifiable, deeply personalized and idiosyncratic and it would be a crying shame for modern jazz fans to let this gem slip through the cracks.

Glenn Astarita, All About Jazz


Some times, I get the feeling that Norbert Stein is holding up high the torch Jean Derome dropped a few years ago: the torch of lively, complex and fun “musique actuelle” that borrows from jazz and Rock-in-Opposition. Pata on the Cadillac reminds me of Carnets de voyage, Je me souviens, and 3 Musiques pour Ubu (note that Stein and Derome both love ‘pataphysics). "Pata on the Cadillac" boast the same sophisticated production as previous Pata releases (Silent Sitting Bulls, Direct Speech), but the writing seems to me more efficient than before, with image-prone themes, great exchanges between saxes (Stein and Georg Wissel) and flute (Michael Heupel), rhythmical finesse ("The Gap"), etc. "The Gap”, "Roter Mund, verrücktes Fest” and "In a man’s mind" are the highlights of this very good album.

François Couture, Délire Musical

Aplomb, grace and wit

German tenor saxophonist Norbert Stein is a veteran of the Koeln scene and has been releasing recordings since the 1980s. His bands have frequently used the prefix pata in their names. Pata derives from pataphyisics and was a concept developed by French surrealist playwright Alfred Jarry, a lover of the absurd. Pataphysics might be called the science of absurdity.

Pata On The Cadillac is the name of Stein's most recent band and his most recent album. The group is an octet but through Stein's crafty arrangements it sounds much bigger than it is. The instrumentation with such unusual jazz ensemble instruments as the violin and euphonium aids in this. The music is complex but these players handle it with aplomb, grace and wit. While the arrangements are intricate, Stein gives all of his players plenty of room for improvisation. But these solos are frequently undermined by unexpected group interjections (i.e. during violinist Mauer's fiery solo on "The Gap"). These interjections seem to function as little explosions that push the soloist into a new direction. Trumpeter Ryan Carniaux seems particularly inspired by this music. he has a lot to do. his muted work on the theme of "On The Cadillac" followed by an open solo is particularly memorable. Although uncredited, it sounds like he also plays flugelhorn on "Drifting". The rhythm section of Oetz and Haberer holds the music together, maneuvering the tricky tempo changes with ease. This sounds like a well-rehearsed ensemble but the music flows with a natural ease. Stein has put together a remarkable ensemble. he's led many in his 30 year career and this is one of the best.

Robert Ianapollo, Cadence Magazine

Creating sound pictures

… Koeln-based tenor saxophonist Norbert Stein with Pata on the Cadillac has produced 10 meticulously arranged original compositions that bring out the best qualities of his ensemble: brass men Ryan Carniaux and Nicolao Valiensi, fellow reedists Michael Heupel and Georg Wissel, drummer Christoph Haberer and string players Albrecht Maurer and Joscha Oetz. The result is soundtrack-like music in the best sense, with the themes creating sound pictures while using the dual rhythm-solo roles of Valiensi’s euphonium and Oetz’s double bass to their best advantages.

… Just because Stein and company haven’t committed completely to atonality, doesn’t lessen the excitement on his disc. If anything it may add to it. That’s because the soloists can play as inside or outside as they wish, with references made throughout to sounds as varied as Japanese court music, parade-ground beats, Jazz-Rock fusion, sentimental pop songs and semi-classical tropes. When this happens however, Stein is too sophisticated a musician to let the resulting motif stand on its own without challenge. The martial rhythms that appear on “Drifting” for instance, are balanced by percussion riffs that move from finger-cymbal clacks to tough back beats while Carniaux’s trumpet solo goes from light puffs to Mariachi echoes.

Similarly the reed parts on “In a Man’s Mind” split in such a fashion that while one saxophonist is trying to upset the narrative with vibrating tongue slurs, the other sounds like he’s sounding a legit version of “Arrivederci Roma”. While all this is happening, Haberer’s inventive hand drumming and flutist Michael Heupel peeps outlines the main exposition. The underlying double bass and euphonium line on “See you, Mara” could serve as a cop show theme, but few genre films would be ready for its extensions that encompass honky-tonk fiddling courtesy of Maurer, and some jagged reed and tongue extensions which suggest John Coltrane may have walked into Peter Gunn’s favorite dive.

More profoundly the head of the title tune comes across as a busier take on “Rhapsody in Blue”, with a modified big band horn arrangement finally being sabotaged by flute bites and speedy drum paradiddles. Before a “Pop Goes the Weasel” ending, enough broken-octave cacophony has arisen from all concerned to twist the theme into an exciting approximation of Free Jazz.

… A plausible path for further little big band explorations.

Ken Waxman,

Style, character, identity

Norbert Stein has assembled a team that ranks among the best.

Michael Ruesenberg, jazzcity-net-edition

Character music

Performing with new membership, the Cologne musician's ensemble brings unchecked enthusiasm to its experimentation with new pieces by Stein ... major studies with a marked finesse, constantly oscillating between the clarity of chamber music and dimensions of the orchestral.

Klaus Huebner, Jazzpodium

Sound structures with an unfettered aura

With 'Pata On The Cadillac', the comprehensive 'Pata' work by Cologne saxophonist Norbert Stein undergoes a further major study, one that sprouts its blossoms in the border region between improvisation and strict composition.

Westzeit, Klaus Huebner, fear no jazz

An unerring sense for groove

The themes are even more singable, the rhythms enriched with even more swing, and the principle of sound concentration even more to the point.

Martin Laurentius, Jazzthing

An independent cosmos of sound

The focus is on the highly eventful and colourful sound of the ensemble.

Martin Schuster, Concerto

Between tradition and the modern age

An octet with a fine playfulness as a captivating firework of iridescent sounds between tradition and the modern age.

Sven Thielmann, hifi&records

A fascinating and exciting work

With 'Pata on the Cadillac', Norbert Stein has succeeded in creating a fascinating and exciting work – a work that, with grooves and rhythmic stumbling blocks, with traditional-seeming sounds and free irruptions, has a spellbinding power.

Klaus Muempfer, jazzpages

Remarkable breadth

In this full-bodied octet, with its remarkable breadth, Stein leaves leeway to all these virtuosi, as if in the absence of oncoming traffic and sheriffs.

Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy


Stein's music ... is peaceful, yet in a thoroughly alert way. It is generous, with strict standards of quality but lax standards of purity, and tells heart-warmingly poetic stories.

Hans-Juergen Linke, nmz, Jazzzeitung


No matter what Norbert Stein does, his music always beams – with splendid experimentation and joy.

Franz X.A. Zipperer, Jazz´n´More

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