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Pianist Masako Ohta and trumpet player Matthias Lindermayr’s music flows in gentle waves, moving with ease between every theme they imagine. Their music is largely improvised, embracing chance and following sound down winding paths. Their debut collaborative album, MMMMH, highlights this loose process through its relaxed pace, surprising turns, and drifting style. The album presents small vignettes that each encapsulate their free-flowing motion and tranquil melodies, drawing from simple ideas to create a fully bloomed, radiant sound.

Ohta and Lindermayr are two Munich-based artists who each have worked on a variety of acclaimed projects as soloists and collaborators. Lindermayr is widely praised for his work as a jazz soloist and in his ensemble Fazer, while Ohta is known for her work in classical and contemporary classical music, where she regularly undertakes projects that bridge genres and disciplines. While Ohta has also maintained an improvisatory practice throughout her career, MMMMH represents her first in-studio, improvisation recording project.

The two musicians first met in 2019 at an award ceremony—both were honored with the music sponsorship award of the city of Munich—where they quickly learned they loved each other’s music. From that performance, they decided to begin meeting up to improvise together for fun; when they got together and played, they were free, following the music wherever it wanted to take them. When it came time to turn their music as a duo into an album, they continued to embrace this intuitive approach. Many of the pieces on MMMMH started from a kernel of an idea—like playing a piece entirely using the pitch A (“La”)—then branched outward from there. But they never came up with anything too specific or restrictive. The process of music-making was spontaneous, built on embracing the idea of chance. In fact, some of the pieces are different every time they play them. Ohta remembers the spur-of-the-moment process as feeling “magical.”

While their music was always evolving into new territories, some of the tracks on MMMMH were born out of in-jokes or personal memories that ended up coloring their improvisations. “Olli’s Balloon,” for example, grew out of the ways Ohta was thinking about her grandchild over the past couple of years. It’s been a dark time, and Ohta wanted to make a piece of music that felt a little more joyful, imagining her grandchild, Olli, holding a balloon and releasing it into the atmosphere with glee. That image drives the track’s lightness and buoyancy, providing a little bit of shine in a time that has often felt dim. But these concepts never overtake the music, or the method of making it. Rather, they’re the ideas that Ohta and Lindermayr used to build lattices of material, jumping off from a tiny starting point into something much larger.

Much of the duo’s music has been created in the casual setting of a friend’s apartment. That relaxed feeling extends throughout MMMMH, giving it a welcoming, intimate feeling. In fact, it was a friend who inspired the album’s unusual title: She told a story once about how she didn’t like clapping at the end of a concert. Instead, she felt, you should say “mmmmh,” like you might at the end of a delicious meal. And that’s why Lindermayr and Ohta bring to their music: a moment of gentle contemplation that leads to satisfaction.

 - Vanessa Ague