Julia Hülsmann

Julia Hülsmann

JULIA HÜLSMANN  piano solo




Last Chance To Misbehave




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Julia Hülsmann Trio


MARC MUELLBAUER   double bass




ULI KEMPENDORFF  tenor saxophone

Beatles Project



BEN MONDER  guitar


Winner of the German Jazz Prize 2021 for best instrumental album of the year

For “Not Far From Here”, her seventh recording for  ECM, Julia Hülsmann had a new timbre in mind – her long-term work trio with Marc Muellbauer and Heinrich Köbberling was enhanced by the inclusion of saxophonist Uli Kempendorff, who whose strong presence is miraculously and seamlessly integrated into Hülsmann’s great lyric poetry while adding grit and pace to the flow of subtle compositions. His playing has  a mixture of nonchalance and urgency, which ideally suits this brilliant trio – he fits easily into this group that has been playing together since 2002, with his sensitivity, open attitude and direct and authentic storytelling.

The three musicians have known Kempendorff for many years and have played with him in various constellations. His open mind and curiosity forbid any categorization or classification, and Jazzthethic noted in Kempendorff’s playing that “both suppleness and abandon exist in rich measure”. This unacademic, original free spirit, who nevertheless knows how to anchor himself in the band context, “succeeds in the seemingly paradoxical feat of not only expanding the ancestral trio, but also sharpening it again in its core.” (Tonart 12/2019).

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As usual with Julia Hülsmann, each member of the formation contributes original compositions. This makes the album, released in the ECM anniversary year 2019 and enthusiastically received by the national and international press (album of the month in the Guardian), a retrospective of the “considerable compositional art of all band members, especially Hülsmann herself“ (Tonart). The repertoire is complemented by a contemporary interpretation of “This Is Not America”, David Bowie’s 1980s hit single (composed by Bowie, Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays) and originally written for John Schlesinger’s spy film ‘The Falcon and the Snowman’, which in the version of the Hülsmann Quartet meanders between maximum deceleration and irrational intensity. “A masterful recording: aesthetically contoured and brimming with creative freedom, mediatively calm and yet brightly luminous.” (Tonart) 

„Not Far From Here“ was recorded in March 2019 at the La Buissonne Studio in southern France and was released in November 2019 on ECM.


Some say that there is hardly any jazz formation that has been more tested than the piano trio and that you have to do something special to get noticed. Julia Hülsmann doesn´t have to concern herself with thoughts like these. She and her trio around bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling have been shaping contemporary jazz in their own special way since 2002, on the path of concentration and careful reduction and sonic awareness. Over many years and through many concerts around the world, the trio has developed a kind of blind understanding in communication, an unbreakable trust in one another but also a subtle, winking humor through sometimes ludicrous situations on concert tours that can only be faced with humor.

In many of her projects, Julia Hülsmann has worked with poetry or songs and has collaborated with singers – covering a spectrum from William Shakespeare to Kurt Weill. If, in the meantime, she repeatedly concentrates entirely on her trio, she proves – without words – her strength as a poet of sound, as a lyricist of the jazz piano. She proves to be “with the haunting melody lines of her right hand, so to speak, her own singer” (Weltwoche, Peter Rüedi).


All of these experiences gained in expanded line-ups have flowed into the playing of the core trio with Muellbauer and Köbberling – the cohesion has grown, at the same time the freedom to go beyond the usual, which leads to constant further development in a completely organic way. With “The End of a Summer” (2008) and “Imprint” (2011) the trio released two acclaimed albums on ECM,  with their sixth ECM trio album “Sooner And Later“,  following a quartet (In Full View, 2013) and quintet recording with the singer Theo Bleckmann (A Clear Midnight – Kurt Weill And America, 2015).
„Far removed from any navel-gazing stupor, ravishing sounds and tone sequences blossom into a magical tension between a sobre matter-of-factness and drunken enthusiasm.” (Rondo)
“If Peter von Matt said in “Poetry under Suspicion“ „poetry’s scandal was that it wanted to be so beautiful“, this is no less true of Julia Hülsmann’s musical poetry. (…) All in all: a very contoured, precise, yet ambiguous music. Too good to not be true.” (Weltwoche, Rüedi) 


Concentrated female energy is promised by Julia Hülsmann’s new project “Last Chance To Misbehave” with  singers Ayse Cansu Tanrikulu and Mia Knop Jacobsen.So on one stage united are:
A pianist/composer who has released 7 albums for ECM and has been a figurehead of German contemporary jazz for years,
a singer/composer/performer from Ankara, who has become an important part of the Berlin jazz and improvisation scene and is known for her unusual and rule breaking conception of new projects,
and a Danish singer/composer who is at home in both jazz and alternative rock/pop, traveling internationally with her own projects, and also performing on stage as a backing vocalist with musicians such as Quincy Jones, George Benson and Jacob Collier.

Once again, Julia Hülsmann proves her great instinct for selecting voices she would like to work with, bringing together two completely different and yet perfectly attuned singers.

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This female trio creates a musical cosmos around poetry, lyrical images and landscapes, moving freely within the surprisingly generous frame that two voices and a singing piano can set. Each member composes specifically for this instrumentation. The very different compositional styles of the individual band members flow together to create a unified band sound, which is reflected in the original compositions and occasional cover songs – whilst the latter ones are given a new and often ironic and ambiguous touch. The focus is on originality, and the trio creates music between jazz, folk and experimental music while working with lyrics from Shakespeare to Beaumont – a unique style that hasn´t been heard before.


Hamburg celebrated a Beatles anniversary in 2020, because 60 years ago five English boys between the ages of 17 and 20, known as “The Beatles”, performed there for the first time. “In Hamburg we learned how to play in front of an audience,” George Harrison said later. The city celebrated this in a variety of ways, including a concert in the Grand Hall of the Elbphilharmonie.

Julia Hülsmann created a program especially for this and in honor of the “Fab Four” together with Nils Wogram on the trombone and Christopher Dell on the vibraphone. It is called “Come together” – on the one hand as a reminiscence of the Beatles hit, on the other hand in the knowledge that getting together for concerts in this special year was ruled out for a while and the joy was great that it was gradually being made possible again, even if only for a short time then.

Dealing with the Beatles’ work is definitely a challenge, as Hülsmann admits: »I grew up with this music, so it’s very close to me. But the originals have been covered so well and so often that you have to come up with something unique. “


For this special evening Hülsmann put together a purely instrumental trio. She decided on this line-up because, on the one hand, the Beatles’ pieces are so well-known you can easily recognize them without singing or even sing along to oneself; on the other hand, their melodies, harmonies and structures are so ingenious that they can be very can conjure up different arrangements. In his free way of interpreting music, Christopher Dell sets extremely exciting impulses with the percussive and floating sound of the vibraphone, which mixes so wonderfully with the piano and complements it at the same time. Nils Wogram on the trombone is something like the ›voice‹ in this trio; with his virtuoso and warm style of playing.

With this combination of instruments and strong musical personalities presents a particularly energetic Beatles program, leading to a new and different Beatles experience. 


In 2018, a new duo was created for the Bonn Jazz Festival with the vibraphonist Christopher Dell. The “Reclam Jazzlexikon“ calls  Dell the leading vibraphonist of his generation. He is a musician who moves as naturally in the context of free improvisation and contemporary music as in jazz. At the same time he has developed an unmistakable style. The maturity and personal character of his his playing is compelling. He loves complex structures, not only as a musician, but also as theoretician and head of the Institute for Improvisational Art Berlin.

The meeting of these two key figures in the Berlin scene opens up a whole new space of timbres and complexity that are seldom found in a duo. On the one hand, it is about the fine art of improvisation, initiating setting and receiving impulses, the use of music as language, action and reaction, exchanging roles, laying the groundwork for improvisational excursions by the duo partner.


On the other hand, it is about the challenging and sonically very attractive combination of piano and vibes: the percussive and shimmering sound of the vibraphone blends with the piano sound and complements it in an incomparable way. This often creates wonderful, disorienting moments in which the sound of the two instruments becomes blurred and you cannot tell the source of these meandering lines and fragile, close harmonies.

The dialogue in the structured thinking of these harmonious and melodically expressive, experienced architects of creative music is not an introspective game of two duo partners, but in its complexity and virtuosity it becomes a conscious and respectful gift to the audience. We look forward to a game of question and answer at the very highest level.


The “JazzBaltica All Star Band”, a purely female ensemble with a changing but reliably strong German-Scandinavian line-up, has opened the festival since 2016. A different artist takes over the direction every year, and in 2019 it was Julia Hülsmann. “You see me in an unfamiliar role today, normally I hide behind the piano,” she confessed then. For Jazz Baltica she rearranged tracks written by herself that deal with the topic of colors, and she conducted with a feather-light stroke. In addition to “Yellow”, “Red” and the sinister “Dunkel”, the 20-person ensemble played poems by James Joyce and Emily Dickinson.

“The jazz women get straight to the point and that is modern big band jazz at the highest level. (…) A tightly woven big band sound blows through the Hall (…), which becomes quieter in the middle part in order to prepare the floor for the trombone and tenor sax solos. Then the wind instruments with the interlaced movements fall into the arms of the soloists again, thus ending the solos and the theme. (…) The many colored voices of the instruments are the musical threads that condense the sound of the body. This is how it is until the final climax, when these threads accumulate in a dramatic increase: Dramatissimo! Julia Hülsmann’s Venus Orchestra is all of this and more. One of the highlights, if not the highlight of the JazzBaltica Festival! “ (jazz-fun.de)

Julia Hülsmann has also written programmes for the Swiss Jazz Orchestra, the NDR Bigband, Fette Hupe and the BuJazzO.


Julia Hülsmann Trio feat. Theo Bleckmann and Ben Monder

For Deutsches Jazz Festival Frankfurt 2016 Julia Hülsmann took on a great challenge: to reinterpret the songs of the Beatles.

This proposal caused good but also mixed feelings – “I’ve always been a Beatles fan and grew up with their music” – also she had concerns, whether that would not have been tried too often and if the originals were not too strong. In fact, many jazz musicians have worked their way through this canon without finding the right approach. The original often disappeared under the weight of harmonious abstraction or virtuoso improvisation, and often the swinging appropriation stayed far away of the creative genius of the original. With Hülsmann neither one nor the other is to be feared. “Rather than herself, she stages others,” remarked Peter Rüedi once in DIE ZEIT.

Julia Hülsmann chose Theo Bleckmann for joining her trio again – she believed, “Theo is one who can sing the Beatles songs anew.” The guitar sounds that are somehow indispensable for a Beatles project are provided by Ben Monder. The subtle New Yorker with his delicate sound language between “electric bebop” and ethereal soundscapes has not only accompanied jazz stars like Paul Motian or Lee Konitz, but also contributed the guitar parts to David Bowie’s album “Blackstar” and has had formed a creative tandem with Theo Bleckmann for many years.

With this exquisite team, Julia Hülsmann brings the songs of the Beatles back to life from the perspective of today’s jazz and provides a “musical-poetic moment of glory with a lyrical expression that is seldom experienced. (…)” (Wolfgang Sandner, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 2016)

Beatles Projekt JH Frankfurt 29.10.16

copyright hr/Sasha Rheker

Sooner And Later’ is an album that grows in appeal with repeated listening. The trio masters interplay and while that dynamic takes precedence over solo time, there are numerous opportunities to appreciate each of the players individually. The quieter moments are warm and enveloping, each with a distinct personality. Where the trio displays their more energetic side, they show a brilliance for creating complex and highly engaging melodies. ‘Sooner And Later’ is a significant achievement for a trio that had set a high bar, long ago.

Karl Ackermann, allaboutjazz.com 03/2017 

With intriguing harmonic figures, and a never too emphatic timbre, her pianism has the effect of lightly dancing above the firm ground of Marc Muellbauer’s stoic and sovereign bass and Heinrich Köbberling’s playful tidal drum work. Her music is rather sparing, essential and of understated clarity rather than abundant. With the work on her newest album Soon And Later Hülsmann is back in the deep mold she carved with her trio through the years. Her clear light strokes true to the sound and the almost autonomously spreading of her lines effortlessly took space and time during the 30 minutes of the showcase indicating which blossoming would be possible in a longer stretch. She apparently reached a higher level in the expression of her and her trio’s very own approach.

Henning Bolte about the showcase concert @ Jazzahead! 2017 for allaboutjazz.com, 05/2017

Rich and textured.

George W. Harris, Jazz Weekly, 03/2017

Julia Hülsmann is a highly imaginative player possessing a rich harmonic language, 24-carat melodic sensibility and incredible rhythmic suppleness.

Jazzwise, UK

The album, Hülsmann’s sixth for ECM, tacks toward visitations that come and go in unconventional ways. The writing serves the purposes of melody most often, with improvising subtle and understated. Muellbauer’s “ The Poet (For Ali)” begins modestly, only to build in intensity with the album’s strongest rhythmic pulse. One of the album’s liveliest numbers comes with Hülsmann’s bouncy, slightly funky “J.J.” The song’s theme conveys the band’s playful sides, the tune ultimately rolling into the album’s most delicious song.

John Ephland (Downbeat Magazine, 07/2017)


The best of those I heard (…) was the most familiar: the trio of the German pianist Julia Hülsmann, with Marc Muellbauer on bass and Heinrich Köbberling on drums. (…) The mature, thoughtful music of Hülsmann’s trio is about substance rather than effect — which is not necessarily intended as a criticism of those who, in the fight to establish themselves in a competitive world, look to distinguish themselves through gesture. I was momentarily disappointed when Hülsmann announced that she and her colleagues were going to finish the set with a tune by Radiohead (…). But then they turned “All I Need” (from In Rainbows) into something of such quiet poise, purity and radiance that any uncharitable thoughts I was beginning to entertain about the entire genre were instantly vaporised.

Richard Williams about the showcase concert @ Jazzahead! 2017 on his blog thebluemoment.com, 04/2017

The band consistently speak with one voice (she and bassist Marc Muellbauer often drop in and out of unison passages), and the coalescing conversation of ‘From Afar’ epitomises that in its brief piano motifs, answering double bass, and slowly gelling harmonies. Hülsmann’s meditative dynamism resonates through ‘Thatpujai’ (formed of solo phrases by the late German jazz pianist Jutta Hipp); drummer Heinrich Köbberling’s ‘You & You’ becomes almost Jarrett-like; the Kyrgyzstan folk tune ‘Biz Joluktuk’ is classically delicate; ‘JJ’ is relaxed and boppish, and Radiohead’s ‘All I Need’ suggests Hülsmann has listened to Brad Mehldau’s investigations of the same source. It’s a quietly classy and vivacious set.

John Fordham, The Guardian 04/2017 

Like End Of A Summer, overt virtuosity has little place on Imprint, but the equilateral triangle that form this trio, with each side gently pushing and pulling – never for dominance but, perhaps for emphasis – is the unmistakable consequence of three players who, after being together for many years, have leapt to another plateau since joining ECM. With greater aplomb, and a more balanced blend of extroverted energy and the equal power of understatement, Imprint is a watershed recording for the egalitarian Hülsmann and her trio, and one of 2011´s best piano trio recordings to date.


As a pianist and as a composer Julia Hülsmann is a poet. She prefers a tight style with reverberating sound over an overflowing narrative style avoiding any pretense of depth. She does not shy away from pop songs and has included Seal’s „Kiss From a Rose“ on her last album among 6 of her own and 3 of her fellow musicians‘ compositions. The song sounds as if it is one of her own compositions and her original pieces sound like standards. (…)Breath, space, frugality are actually keywords to describe her music. Transparency of interaction between the musicians. (…) Hülsmann does not allow her feelings to dominate her mind, but she allows them as it were as a corrective to her leaning towards transparent constructivism.Feelings, at times melancholy darkened. Not: sentimentalities.


This might just be one of the great jazz treatments of the songs of Kurt Weill. (…) Hülsmann´s ECM albums were intelligent distillations of familiar jazz-piano styles, but she opens up more on this enticing set, while staying alert to coaxings from the bass and drums, and to the eloquence of Bleckmann and trumpeterflugelhornist Tom Arthurs. (…) Not a sound is out of place on this beautifully crafted project, but it sounds open and spontaneous just the same.

Karl Ackermann, All About Jazz

This might just be one of the great jazz treatments of the songs of Kurt Weill. (…) Hülsmann´s ECM albums were intelligent distillations of familiar jazz-piano styles, but she opens up more on this enticing set, while staying alert to coaxings from the bass and drums, and to the eloquence of Bleckmann and trumpeterflugelhornist Tom Arthurs. (…) Not a sound is out of place on this beautifully crafted project, but it sounds open and spontaneous just the same.


In the past she has often collaborated with vocalists, but now she has found a sound in the 88 keys which sounds like singing without her having to raise her voice. It is a singing which comes from deep inside and spreads through the whole body into the fingertips.