Wood & Steel Trio

Wood & Steel Trio

Wood Steel 3 kl-filtered

ROLAND NEFFE   marimba / vibraphone

CHRISTIAN KÖGEL   dobro steel guitar

MARC MUELLBAUER   double bass


Ulf Drechsel, RBB

TRIO ALCHEMY – thoughts on the album “Secret Ingredient” by the WOOD & STEEL TRIO

By Tom R. Schulz


The trio format is as omnipresent and idiomatic in jazz as the string quartet is to classical music. And the vast majority of jazz trios are comprised of piano, bass and drums – the piano trio – to many the supreme creative discipline in jazz. “Secret Ingredient”, the debut album by Berlin based musicians Roland Neffe, Christian Kögel and Marc Muellbauer offers pure trio jazz in a highly personal and unmistakable sonic conception. There is no drum set, no piano, instead we hear dobro and marimba or vibes. Only the bass, the irreplaceable anchor for heart and feet in almost all music, is retained.

While the substances mentioned in the band’s name are the constituent ingredients of most other instruments, Neffe, Kögel and Muellbauer take the raw matter to extreme places while working their sonic magic.

Christian Kögel plays only the dobro on this album, a special form of the acoustic guitar. It produces the most metallic sound ever heard from a stringed instrument. Yet Kögel’s treatment coaxes an enormous palette of sounds from the instrument, from rapid chordal tremolos to astonishing sustained single notes.

The combination of guitar and vibes has a long ancestry in jazz. Heard with this in mind, the music of the Wood & Steel Trio seems to rotate around a subtly inclined axis. In this music the guitar is not the wooden instrument – it embodies a metallic purity while the steely glistening of the vibes with its alternately percussive and celestial bell-like sound takes second place in Neffe’s art behind the marimba – the vibe’s softer, wooden, slightly mysterious sister with an unmistakable African ancestry. The contributions of wood and steel seem interchanged in this trio – possibly one secret ingredient.

Roland Neffe lays down ever-changing pathways on his wonderfully adaptable percussive as well as harmonic/melodic instruments. His sound has an immense expressive range, one easily forgets that the instrument is played far away from the body and neither fingers nor breath are directly involved in tone-production.

In its very contemporary geometry, this trio appears as an equilateral triangle – each of the three players play an equal part in the magnificent creation of this music. The double bass with its hollow space enclosed by vibrating wood in turn amplifying vibrating steel strings, is the trio’s only instrument that unifies both elements – wood and steel.

Marc Muellbauer gives his bass a far more important role than just the bridge between opposites, the anchor for his high-flying band-mates. He changes his role in a beautifully unpredictable way, from the mighty engine, to singer, sometimes whispering in brief fluttering tones, to incorruptible metronome in this oftentimes irregularly metered music.

The trio has a wickedly splendid way of bedding its rhythmically sophisticated music into an organic flow. Thanks to their superb craft and regal interplay the three musicians allow the music to surge through meticulously tended channels of asymmetrical meters as if it were white water rafting down a mountain stream.

One last thought: The Wood & Steel Trio’s listeners become confidants in an alchemized process. It soon becomes apparent: The honest, almost working-class insistence on wood, steel and tears is only the surface.


The real “secret ingredient” of this music is that these three artists have purified something from the clay of the earth that is rare and valuable, and that nurtures the needs of the audience more than anything else: pure gold for the ears.



Wood Steel m-filtered

Roland Neffe was born in 1970 in Graz / Austria and has lived in Berlin since 1995.

He studied both classical percussion and jazz vibraphone with Gary Burton at Berklee College of Music / Boston and at the Hochschule der Künste / Berlin with David Friedman. He has made a name for himself as a musician who crosses cultural borders. Equally at home in jazz as well as in contemporary music, he “blows the audience’s expectations” (Jazz Podium) and is a frequently booked guest at various festivals at home and abroad due to his impressive skills.

Christian Kögel, born in 1967, lives in Berlin since 1990. In the same year he founded his own trio and together with them won several jazz awards in Germany. After having studied classical guitar and electric guitar at the Hochschule der Künste / Berlin he studied Oud and traditional Arabic music with the Syrian oud virtuoso Farhan Sabbagh.   He is at home in the area between   jazz, singer / songwriter, chamber music and traditional Arab and Afghan music and he plays music and produces it as a member of several bands (flexkögel, Mattar 4, Lauer Large, Marc Muellbauers Kaleidoscope, Jazzanova live, etc.). His lyrical play and his perceptive understanding of music has taken him on tour to various countries like the USA and Canada (where he is a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax), to Russia and Afghanistan.

Bass player Marc Muellbauer, born in London in 1968, has been playing for 17 years with the Julia Hülsmann Trio and leads his own band of nine musicians called Kaleidoscope. His musical background ranges from contemporary music to Argentinian tango, he has also been in a number of other jazz bands, including the Lisbeth Quartett and the Uli Kempendorff Quartet.  Muellbauer teaches string bass at the Jazz Institute Berlin.

When Kögel began the countrified finale, (…) his quirky stops and stats, as well as his pitch shifts of the simple chord changes – effected by yanking on the neck of his guitar – were met with wild laughter from the rest of the group.


Christan Koegel´s use of volume warps, shimmering chords, folkish fingerpicking and screaming sustains interfaced with frequently breathtaking aplomb.


a unique improvisational voice.