Norbert Stein

Photo of Pata Messengers

Norbert Stein - tenor saxophone
Philip Zoubek - piano
Joscha Oetz - double bass
Etienne Nillesen - prepared snare drum + cymbal

The virtuosity, the interactions and the improvisational art of the Pata Messengers unfold in thrilling Pata compositions. A powerful flow of expressive music.


Venerable German saxophonist, composer Norbert Stein's various ensemble manifestations draw inspiration from the work of 19th century scientist, Dr. Faustroll who developed the 'pata physics' theory, defined as a science centered on "unreal logic." Here, the artist leads a quartet under the moniker "Pata Messengers," which is a semi-free program framed on linear thematic sequences that contain underlying melodic content with spacious intervals and rhythmically complex unison runs.

Certain works spark notions of Ornette Coleman's harmolodic principles as melodies, phrasings and cadences are executed with knotty and soaring lines via forward moving passages. Yet the band also puts the musical transmission in reverse as a means of intimating a different perspective on a core plot. It's a nifty concept that garners additional interest throughout.

Many of these pieces share similar attributes. It's akin to a lengthy suite designed with alternating subplots amid robust improvisational exchanges. For example, on "Diatonic Upanishad," Etienne Nillesen—who solely performs on a prepared snare drum and cymbal—stays on top of the pulse to incorporate a sense of urgency for Stein and pianist Philip Zoubek's swirling currents, refreshed with a playful motif and ascending choruses. However, "What We Are" is a medium-tempo bop anchored by bassist Joscha Oetz's supple support and energized by Stein's brusque attack, sweetened by a touch of vibrato and fluent single note flurries as the band systematically pick up the pace.

"Mellstones" boasts a memorable hook and an uplifting trajectory, as the final piece "Friendship," is an 'amicable' one-minute ballad that finalizes the program on a temperate footnote. Here and throughout, Stein transparently morphs avant-garde inclinations into an uncanny form of conventional wisdom.

Glenn Astarita / All About Jazz

Strong and satisfying

This music has definite structures and once their presence is met the quartet pretty much goes free form with Nillesen playing with and counter to the other members of the group. Stein's growl-ly tenor is very strong and gives a sense of great reserve of power and ideas. Similarly Zoubek's piano acts as a counter foil full of ideas. A strong and satisfying date

Robert D. Rusch, Papatamus, Cadence

Own musical personality

Norbert Stein is a German tenor-saxophonist who has performed throughout Europe and the world including several visits to the U.S. He has a large tone and is equally skilled at caressing melodies and playing very adventurous and expressive solos. He sometimes hints at Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler but always displays his own musical personality.

While Stein sometimes leads the James Choice Orchestra and several other ensembles, We Are features his Pata Messengers, a quartet also including pianist Philip Zoubek, bassist Joscha Oetz and drummer Etienne Nillesen. The group performs nine of its leader's originals.

On this CD, Norbert Stein and his sidemen often introduce a warm folkish melody before engaging in advanced improvising. While playing quite free much of the time, the group does not lose sight of the mood set by the themes and in spots shows its ability to swing in a modern manner. The rhythm section keeps a forward momentum constantly flowing, building upon the past while looking towards the future. Zoubek has several excellent solos while Oetz and Nillesen never let the music merely coast.

With Stein contributing fiery solos, We Are stays consistently passionate.

Scott Yanow, Los Angeles Jazz Scene

Fluid from freedom to in time

German tenor saxophonist Norbert Stein calls his high-minded yet addictive European jazz quartet the Pata Messengers, after patyaphysics, an "an imaginary realm additional to metaphysics" developed by the Parisian absurdist Alfred Jarry (1873-1907). Fluid from freedom to in time, according to Michael Rusenberg, "Pata music floats in a large area of brackish water … between singable waltz … and complete dissolution of the meter." Drummer Etienne Nillesen uses only a prepared snare drum and cymbal for a kit and makes it work very well. Philip Zoubek is Stein's first piano player and rounds out the proceedings, you can hear the difference between this and the other Stein / Pata Music releases in our library.

Hemroid The Leader, KFJC 89.7 FM, Los Altos Hills, California

Putting individual stamp(s) on the classic tenor saxophone-and-rhythm-section formation

Norbert Stein/Pata Messengers We Are PataMusic Pata 24
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/William Parker/Bobby Kapp Heptagon Leo Records LR 807

Putting individual stamp(s) on the classic tenor saxophone-and-rhythm-section formation are two veteran saxophonists, German Norbert Stein, whose musical associates are all Köln-based and Brazilian Ivo Perelman playing with a trio of New Yorkers. In spite of the almost identical CD length and instrumentation, the eclectic nature of improvised music allows for genuinely autonomous discs, which also expose oblique variants of each saxophonist's usual work. Stein, often helms meticulously arranged programs of his compositions for larger ensembles, and who has recently been flirting with interpretations of German poetry, lets himself go on We Are, with seven performances which speak to old-time jam sessions as well as Free Music sound exploration. Perelman during the past couple of decade has established himself as one of the bolsters of the uncompromising Free Jazz tradition, However there are points during Heptagon's six tracks where the melodious concept which is always subtly present in his improvising become more obvious.

Stein's Pata Messengers here consist of Austrian pianist Philip Zoubek, whose exploratory playing usually takes place alongside the likes of Carl Ludwig Hübsch; bassist Joscha Oetz, who plays with folks like Simon Nabatov; and percussionist Etienne Nillesen, who has also worked with Hübsch and Nabatov. Perelman's associates include pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker, some of the most recorded jazzers of our time, whose playing partners range from Evan Parker, Hamid Drake and outwards in every direction; plus drummer Bobby Kapp, a 1960s avant-gardist recently returned to the scene.

Pressurized, buoyant and with a hint of melody, Stein's unmatched horn explorations dig into the furthest regions of his horn with the same singleness of purpose he brings to orchestral exploration. Sticking to mostly the same tempo and with the same depth of feeling throughout, Zoubek's animated keyboard forays not only dig out drama on their own, but also add two-handed cohesion in tandem with the tenor saxophone work. Playing only prepared snare drum and cymbal, Nillesen bolsters the rhythm without bravado. Free form and grounded at the same time, many of the tracks follow different patterns. Stein's harsh blowing and snorting with a Hard Bop edge on "What We Are" for instance networks a swinging interface to include a walking bass line, measured clangs from the drummer and fleet comping from Zoubek. In contrast, "Diatonic Upanishad" is a staccato tenor saxophone showcase, but like a Western climber in the Himalayas, the achievement is made possible by Sherpa-like bolstering from parade-ground-like drumming and locked-in piano chords.

Most arresting are consecutive tracks, "Polarity", "Be yond!" and "Mellstones", which could comfortably be a triptych suite by themselves. On the first, the pianist's key clipping elaborates a near-balladic exposition which seesaws alongside moderato reed slurps. Picking up the tempo, the following tune is freer at first, prodded by popping drum beats, high-frequency piano glissandi and altissimo reed split tomes, only to slip unobtrusively into the more mellow "Mellstones". Featuring a strummed guitar-like bass solo and subtle harmonies from the pianist which cuddle alongside carefully organized tonal breaths from the saxophonist, the final theme adds up to the perfect suite ending and CD finale.

Expert in rugged syncopated rhythms and chiaroscuro multiphonics, the quartet on Heptagon never mutates sounds and narratives to the extent that a certain musical strategy isn't clear. One obvious contrast with We Are is the position of the double bass. Oetz's contributions may be muted by the other Pata Messengers' sounds. But Parker's upright pulse throbs throughout Heptagon, not quite upfront, but not 'way behind either. At times as well, the simpatico Arco slides and elevated timbre expelling from Perelman throughout almost mirror one another. On the other hand, the friction generated by Kapp's drums is usually conveyed by unobtrusive brush work or uncomplicated tick-tock patterns. That means that a track like "Part 4" is compartmentalized with subtle swing as Shipp's high frequency patterning takes the form of decorative elaborations, while Perelman's theme examination is squeezed out with toothpaste tube-like consistency, with only the occasional whines and slurps relating to his usual vibrations. However the track that precedes it features unreconstructed Free Jazz swing with the reed line pin-width narrow and altissimo, prodded by slippery bass string sweeps.

The plateau reached by layering desiccated tones from Perelman on top of galloping kinetics from Shipp and chromatic pushes from the bassist and drummer on "Part 5", is scaled by a drum solo and leads to a sinewy stride showcase for Shipp on "Part 6". Instructively, before he starts deconstructing the theme via shrill pitches, backed by spiccato double slides and smacks plus a waft of scattered theme variations, Perelman has exposed a light Paul Desmond-like tone earlier on that track. From that point on, the climatic and final "Part 7" reprises many of the multi-sequenced motifs in miniature as it works up to a crescendo. Kapp click-clacks to hold the beat, Parker thumps out a further theme-shaping beat and Shipp comps rhythmically. All of this sets up some kinetic tongue and lip jujitsu from the saxophonist, which in a thickset of slippery, slurry, and soaring reed bites concludes the program, confirming both its neutral and irregularly configured parts.

Two tenor-saxophone-and-rhythm-section CDs prove with unique and satisfying sounds the reason why this formation has long been considered classic.

Ken Waxman, jazzword

Cover CD "Friends & Dragons"Thoughtful music

NORBERT STEIN, who has been recording under the banner of Pata Music (touch music?) since the late 1980s, has released FRIENDS & DRAGONS with a small group he calls Pata Messengers. The program of four Stein compositions gives a solid listen to the sound of Stein's grinding tenor work. The rhythm section, when not soloing, gives solid free-form electric backing. This is thoughtful music ...

Robert D. Rusch, Papatamus, Cadence

pdf IconReviews of "We are" as .pdf download


pdf IconReviews of "Friends & Dragons" as .pdf download

Reviews of "Das Karussell" as .pdf download

In jazz, improvisation flouts the rigidity in conventions, it keeps music exciting. That is the one thing. However, Norbert Stein also finds the compositional aspect important, the prescribed sensitivity, empathy and the obstinacy with which he forms networks for his fellow band members, only to tear them apart again. The tenor saxophonist and band leader shines with a brilliant clarity which does not shy away from harshness, loves the abstract and yet draws from the melodic. Stein wants all or nothing and constantly questions the facets of his abilities. ... he skillfully balances along the fine line between free improvisation and extremely sophisticated formalities...."

Martin Woltersdorf, Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger

Norbert Stein's combinations cultivate urges from avant-garde exegesis and traditional musical language with the means of contemporary ideas.

Klaus Huebner, Jazzpodium

It is the free and tolerance spaces inherent in this music which take the edges and sharpness out of a lot of pieces which can sound shrill. It is Norbert Stein's art of composition which creates thematic frameworks in which his band can do a lot and quite vehemently let themselves go, without doing anything wrong.

Hans-Juergen Linke, Frankfurter Rundschau

An independent musical cosmos in which the strictly composed and freely improvised keep an approximate balance; the topics often seem based on intonations of speech and, with their narrative rhythm, fit ideally into the suite-like character of the compositions.

Piece titles such as "Nondual Action" or "This is You" raise the question as to the composer's take on spirituality. Says Stein: "If one understands spirituality as a conscious occupation with questions regarding the sense and value of existence, the world, humans and, in particular, one's own existence and one's own self-realization in life, then in this definition I see connections to Pata music. Music is one of the arts available to people to capture what is essential, elementary and moving. This is what makes it such an important aspect of human communication. It can transport contents and, in a more or less concealed manner, give a feeling of answers to the questions regarding the WHAT IS. That is what Pata music is about

Martin Schuster, Concerto

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