The 38th Annual Jazz Station Awards/The Best Jazz of 2016

by Arnaldo DeSouteiro

January 2017

2016 Alto Saxophone: # 1 Karolina Strassmayer

2016 Flute: # 9 Karolina Strassmayer

2016 Drums: # 5 Drori Mondlak

2016 Instrumental Group: # 7 Karolina Strassmayer & Drori Mondlak – KLARO!

2016 Best 25 Instrumental Jazz CDs: # 4 Of Mystery and Beauty

2016 Best Jazz Tracks of the Year: # 5 From Her Pale Blue Home

2016 Best Engineer: # 9 Carsten Vollmer and Thomas Götz


Thank you very much to Arnaldo DeSouteiro for his recognition.

The 38th Annual Jazz Station Awards/The Best Jazz of 2016

KLARO! at Jazz Ahead 2017

January 2017

KLARO! has been selected from over 600 groups to perform at the European Night Showcase Festival at jazzaheaad! in Bremen on April 28th, 2017. At this highly prestigious performance spot KLARO! will perform for jazz festival promoters from all over the globe and jazz aficionados who gather for the annual jazz conference Jazz Ahead in Bremen.

Please join us on April 28th, 2017, at 8 pm at Hall 7.1 for our showcase performance.

Come and say hi at the Austrian Music Export and have some Viennese coffee!

Of Mystery and Beauty is selected as  Jazz CD of the Month

by Arnaldo DeSouteiro’s Jazz Station

October 2016

Rating: ***** (musical performance & sonic quality)

Featuring: Karolina Strassmayer (alto sax), Drori Mondlak (drums), Rainer Böhm (piano) & John Goldsby (bass)

With their newest recording, “Of Mystery And Beauty,” alto saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer and drummer Drori Mondlak continue their creative collaboration that began in New York City in 2000. Now they have a home base in Cologne, Germany, since Strassmayer became the first woman to join the WDR Big Band in 2004 and Mondlak moved some years later to join her.

In their seventh recording together (“Wake-up Call” and “Small Moments” are among their previous stunning albums), their vision has crystallized into an original and deeply personal sound. Strassmayer and Mondlak consider this collection of original compositions and solo improvisations to be their most powerful recording to date. Their quartet, KLARO!, fuses the romanticism of European classical and folk music with the rhythmic fire and swing of American jazz and the harmonic sophistication of contemporary improvised music. Two other outstanding musicians — pianist Rainer Böhm and bassist John Goldsby — complete the group.

I don’t like comparisons because music is not competition. But sometimes it’s important to use some references. Listening to this album, just the opening track, “From Her Pale Blue Home,” of an abrasive beauty, would be enough to classify it as a contemporary masterpiece. And to point out that Strassmayer’s expressiveness on alto sax is on the same level (and impress me) of the late Phil Woods, my all time favorite alto sax player, making her a supreme balladeer. Precious tune, perfect articulation, wonderful phrasing. And that sound that speaks direct to the heart. Each note with its own intensity.

Her partner in music & life, Drori Mondlak — born of a Polish father and English mother in Mexico City but raised in NYC — is a drummer of extreme subtlety and melodic refinement that reminds me of Roy Haynes on his best moments. What he does with the sticks and mallets on cymbals throughout the third track, “Postcards From A Quiet Place,” is a lesson in space and use of silence. And Strassmayer once again plays with incandescent power.

These two above mentioned tunes (plus “Of Space And Rest” and “Gently Spoke The Mermaid”) are my personal favorite tracks, because of my passion for ballads. But the up-tempo numbers like “Fanfare From Another World,” that could be qualified as contemporary bop, are also very impressive. Not to mention the funkyfied “Side To Side” and Mondlak’s solo piece, “Cascades.” On the closing theme, “Still In Her Ears”, Strassmayer is heard on flute, in a duet with German pianist Rainer that evokes me memories of a lost gem recorded by Dave Liebman & Richie Beirach in 1975, “Forgotten Fantasies.”

Böhm, whom I heard for the first time on albums by bassist Dieter Ilg, also shines for keeping the high level of eloquent introspection, soloing with the typical aplomb of European jazz players. John Goldsby, who has recorded with Lalo Schifrin, John Barry and one of the best pianists in the world, the extremely underrated Frank Chastenier, moved to Germany when joined the WDR Big Band back in 1994. His self-restraint soloing on “Gently Spoke The Mermaid” confirms his affinity with the “play only the essential” style of KLARO!

“Beauty means different things to different people. But there is a universal truth about it, regardless of taste and aesthetic; beauty has the power to move the heart,” says Karolina Strassmayer.



June 20, 2016

Of Mystery and Beauty

On their seventh collaborative work, alto saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer and drummer Drori Mondlak enlist pianist Rainer Böhm and bassist John Goldsby to round out their KLARO! quartet.

Mondlak’s sensitive cymbal-and-mallet work embellishes Strassmayer’s mournful lines on the opening “From Her Pale Blue Home.” As Böhm and Goldsby make their presence known, Strassmayer’s lines become fluid and plaintive. The minor melody, as well as the saxophonist’s tone and phrasing, convey a profound yearning and wistfulness. Although these hues are prominent throughout, they aren’t the only ones with which she paints. Strassmayer’s playing is bey turns dreamy and introspective, swinging and forceful.

Sensitive and precise, Mondlak is more colorist than timekeeper. In fact, he’s frequently compared to his former instructor, Joe Morello, and also brings to mind Paul Motian. On “Gently Spoke the Mermaid,” Mondlak dissolves into the tune, laying down soft patterns with brushes. And “Cascades” is that rarest of musical commodities – a drum solo that maintains listeners’ interest without resorting to bombast. Strassmayer can be frantic and exploratory, as on the group improvisation “Four Us All,” or nuanced, as on “Gently Spoke the Mermaid.” Not the title track, Goldsby’s melodic opening solo states the theme, which is then picked up thy his bandmates. Strassmayer’s lines float atop the rhythmic bed, lending a breezy feel. Meanwhile, Böhm contributes a delightful solo, his seemingly offhand riffs descending the keyboard just before Strassmayer re-enters.

The album displays not only the promises of its title, but also a sense of cohesion among its participants. – Ross Boissoneau

BR-KLASSIK documentary about Of Mystery And Beauty is now online!

May 20, 2016

New Review by Doug Ramsey

May 18, 2016

Karolina Strassmayer & Drori Mondlak—KLARO!

Of Mystery and Beauty (Lilypad Music/BR-KLASSIK)

Of Mystery and Beauty coverFrom the drama of the album’s opening cymbal splashes to the fading piano notes at its end, alto saxophonist and flutist Strassmayer and drummer Mondlak reaffirm their mastery of small group music that is as notable for strength as for intimacy. Of Mystery and Beauty is, if anything, even more compelling than their 2013 Small Moments. In no small part that is because of the support of the undersung American bassist
John Goldsby and the young veteran German pianist Rainer Böhm. Strassmayer has absorbed, internalized and personalized what John Coltrane gave to jazz and often evokes him purely on the power of her tone and inflection. The subtlety of Mondlak’s drumming is epitomized in his unaccompanied feature “Cascades.” Pauses and silences are among the attributes of that four-minute work of the imagination, made all the more effective by Mondlak’s upwellings of contrasting intensity. Strassmayer’s closing duet with Böhm, “Still In Her Ears,” is notable for her emotional range and the purity of her flute sound.


UK Vibe Review Of Mystery And Beauty

by Mike Gates

May 5, 2016

The quartet explore Strassmayer’s tunes with an ethereal spirit, at times thoughtful and contemplative, whilst still reaching out and expressing the fire that burns within. It is a beautiful fire, its flames darting and flickering, creating light and shade in the music they are making. Throughout the album there is an almost reserved reverence that the whole band employ, one that allows the listener time to enjoy the subtle nuances and interplay between the performers. Strassmayer’s searching alto sax opens the album, with the opening track “From Her Pale Blue Home” setting the tone for the rest of the session. One of the strengths of the recording is the writing, Strassmayer’s tunes being very accomplished and beautifully composed. Perhaps the perfect example of this is the title track, “Of Mystery and Beauty”. Listening to this wonderful piece of music, one could be discovering a long-lost track from Keith Jarrett’s classic album “My Song”. A beautiful hook is employed within its melody, one that is so reminiscent of Jan Garbarek when he was making music alongside Jarrett in the 70’s. It’s also important not to underestimate the value of the pianist Rainer Böhm and bassist John Goldsby; the skill and warmth that they contribute to this quartet appears to be as equally impressive as the two band leaders themselves. It’s quite obvious that musically the foursome enjoy an excellent rapor.

Much of the music is soft and gentle, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any room for some sparkling soloing and improvisation. Strassmayer is a consummate performer, technically gifted and somehow she manages to provide some startling moments, whilst still keeping hold enough for the music to remain very accessible.

There is an overall charm and inventiveness to “Of Mystery And Beauty”, one which grows deeper with every listen.

Quality music performed by a quality quartet.

Read full review

CD Of Mystery And Beauty received 4 1/2 Star Review on All About Jazz

by Hrayr Attarian

Feb 1, 2016

Over the past decade and a half Austrian saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer has established herself as a superbly consummate musician. Her multifaceted compositions are always subtly, engagingly inventive and brim with brilliant wit and lyricism. As an improviser she plays with a reserved intensity and a captivating and suave spontaneity. Her seventh release Of Mystery and Beauty showcases again her unique style that has matured and ripened without losing any of its vibrant energy.

Like all of Strassmayer’s previous albums this one is also in collaboration with American drummer Drori Mondlak. An undisputed master percussionist Mondlak, with his virtuosity and bold, explorative spirit, is the indispensible driving force behind the pair’s music. Case in point; his unaccompanied solo “Cascades” is breathtakingly spirited and unexpectedly tuneful.

Together with their quartet KLARO! Strassmayer and Mondlak interpret the ten originals with a sublime mix of magical ethereality and visceral earthiness. The title track for instance opens with bassist John Goldsby‘s contemplative reverberating strings. Pianist Rainer Böhm‘s resonant chiming keys and Mondlak’s softly propulsive beats create an expectant ambience for Strassmayer’s yearning poetry. Heavily tinged with mysticism. Strassmayer lets loose intricate meandering alto lines that build an intriguing and passionate melody. After Böhm’s shimmering, incandescent deluge of notes tense sonic fragments usher in the darkly hued conclusion.

The dramatic and provocative “Four Us All” has an otherworldly mood and lilting cadence. Mondlak’s primal rumble and rustling sticks together with Goldsby’s thumping vamps and Böhm’s sparse, haunting chords form a loose and angular rhythmic framework. Strassmayer fills this gripping harmonic shell with her free flowing and open-ended extemporization making the piece one of the most innovative on the record.

Elsewhere on the funky and emotive “Side by Side” Strassmayer’s blues-drenched saxophone dances seductively and with muscular phrases around the main theme. Böhm’s buoyant piano echoes and expands on the altoist’s mordant and acerbic tones and stirring wail.

The vigorous “Fanfare From Another World,” meanwhile, features Böhm’s lithe pianism. His breathtaking acrobatics are equal parts technical prowess and elegant artistry. Strassmayer blows with fiery gusto the bubbling head over her band-mates hard swinging refrains. Mondlak bisects the tune with his thunderous thumps and complex, overlapping polyrhythms.

This captivating record closes with the hypnotic and gorgeous ballad “Still In Her Ears.” This Strassmayer and Böhm duet spotlights the former’s thick breathy flute as it undulates gracefully over the latter’s introspective and classically influenced performance.

Simultaneously unconventional and accessible Of Mystery and Beauty is an imaginative work. With charm and intelligence it eschews both abstruseness and banality. It engrosses with its diversity yet remains conceptually cohesive. It stimulates and moves with its ingenious complexity and fascinating fluidity. In short it is, to date, Strassmayer and Mondlak’s finest disc and one that surely will stand the test of time.