Hellmut Hattler has been on stage for more than 40 years. His trademark is a white electric bass that he can play like no other. The musician's current project is an infectious mix of electronic, funk and pop.
The song "Salaud" has Oriental flair, with its driving rhythm rooted somewhere between Andalusia, North Africa and India. It brings in Middle Eastern samples and an electric sitar played by guitar virtuoso Torsten de Winkel. The combination makes for great music - relaxing but compelling, danceable but also good in the background.
Hellmut Hattler has been working for more than 10 years on this sound, which one could superficially call lounge music. But Hattler lends depth to what's usually just a backdrop. The bass player has since produced five albums of grooving perfection. Heard live, it's even easier to appreciate his virtuosity.
Hattler makes sure to give concert-goers a sound experience that doesn't disappoint when compared with his studio recordings, and computers do their part to build a musical bed. But now and again, the musical scaffolding falls away, opening up space for solos and improvisation. For the track "The Terrace," the band strips away the electronica so guitarist de Winkel can put all his jazz and fusion cards on the table.
Innovating, not imitating
Hellmut Hattler has never been one to chase after trends - he creates them. When he founded the band Kraan in 1971, Hattler's explicit goal was not to let himself be influenced too heavily by others, but to let the music develop from himself.
As much as there were influences to hear, then from Jimi Hendrix and Oriental sounds that he heard by way of Radio Baghdad on short wave radio. All the while, his bass playing remains unmistakable. The sound is spare and unusually melodious for a bass, making him if not the best, then certainly Germany's most original bass player. These days, musicians can even pick up manuals on how to achieve the Hattler sound.
But whether a book can teach them to play the way Hattler does on "Dinner for Three" raises a few doubts.
From Krautrock to hip jazz
Tab Two - with this trumpet and bass duo, Hattler achieved international success during the 1990s. Together with trumpeter Joo Kraus, he developed a special variant of acid jazz, featuring hip hop lyrics that collide with jazz and funk. The duo put out albums, did a lot of shows, composed music for films and even did a piece for Tina Turner before parting ways in 1999. Trumpeter Joo Kraus was ready to move on.
The first album under the band name Hattler drew attention right away after its 2001 release. The sound began to center less on the instrumentation and more on the songs. Singer Fola Dada replaced the rapping from the Tab Two era, and has now been at Hattler's side on the microphone since 2006.
Batman's cocktail music
"Gotham City Beach Club Suite" is Hattler's latest release, featuring a group of musicians that also join Hattler on stage in concert, like guitarist Torsten de Winkel and DJ and drummer Oli Rubow. And there's plenty of Hattler's signature sound.
"Every town's got some kind of little beach bar these days," Hellmut Hattler said of the album's concept. "I asked myself, what kind of music would play in a beach club in Gotham City."
The listener can imagine what Hattler means about Batman's hometown - moments of darkness come through again and again on the tracks. One exception: The song "Dimitri" springs from a rather innocent source. It draws on the rhythm that Hellmut Hattler's young son likes to hear when he's going to sleep.
Far from over
Hattler and band Kraan on stage
Hellmut Hattler has founded a number of bands in his long career, and left them again, but the projects never really seem to come to an end. Kraan, the internationally successful formation from the 1970s, was dissolved in the early 80s, then re-founded, re-dissolved, and sometimes plays today in its original formation.
Tab Two is also putting out a new album soon- "Two Thumbs Up" comes out at the end of April and a tour is already planned. Fans can get a taste already of what the album promises on "Whatchagonnado," a song that brings back the group's funk-inflected sound, but with a new twist: Hellmut Hattler, just a week shy of turning 60, raps on the track.
Download or listen to this edition of "German Pop" by clicking on the link below.
Author: Matthias Klaus / gsw
Editor: Kate Bowen