Hamburg: Port of Call purports to be an "interdisciplinary project" that blends Hamburg jazz music with waterfront paintings of this seaside city. Paintings by Patrick Haskett, titled to correspond with each music track, add some interest to the normally humdrum liner notes. But the artist’s dull palette, which depicts the German docks in brooding blue-and-brown tones, muddies whatever enthusiasm one might be able to muster up for the docks of Hamburg. "Ready to Take Lines" brightens the lot, however. It offers a nice composition and contrasts silhouetted ships and dock-workers with a bright-colored hull and sailors.
The music disappoints, rivalling the CD cover art for dreariness. Composer Hans Fahling needs either a Harmony 102 class or a shot of courage. He rarely ventures beyond a monotonous unison guitar (Fahling) and tenor line (Ralph Reichert and Aaron Birrell). Occasionally he throws in a few thirds or (gasp) sixths. "Golden Seven" surprises the listener with one likeable harmonic excursion, but it is all too tentative, slow, and brief.
The musicians may be equally at fault for the low energy of this disc. The soloists play metronomic eighth notes and breathe once every four bars during uninspired improvisations. But, after all, they have little to work with here. Fahling’s melodies repeat phrases with minimal or uninteresting variation, all the while clinging to the root, third, and fifth of the underlying chords. This release, named after a city rich in history, is pretentiously marketed considering what it is: a beginner's release. One might more accurately name it "Humbug."