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Lambert is today an enigmatic star of Europe’s neo-classical scene, sustaining an impish mystique since condemning his given name to obscurity and donning an ever present, horned Sardinian mask in 2014. Before his current, strange fame, though, he was a dashing melodic improviser in Bill Evans’ tradition, a jazz man to his bones. During recent gigs, as he’s played highly melodic, limpidly minimalist piano in the style that made his new name, an audiences will have discerned the ghosts of that old life, in passages of assured improv. The jazz musician inside him was otherwise buried deep.
Now with his eighth album, All This Time, tellingly to be released on the great jazz label Verve (in partnership with his home label Mercury KX), Lambert’s musical mask is off – the improvisation unashamed, the freewheeling melodies unchained. Teaming up with bassist * and drummer Luca Marini, the trio blend jazz, modern classical and electronic elements and find a contemporary sound reminiscent of the likes of EST, Gogo Penguin and Portico Quartet but one very much their own. As his delicately bluesy piano rolls through “Cry Me A River”, immersing himself in its smoky mood as electronic washes shimmer, and on the title track “All This Time”, an affecting soundscape that demonstrates a delicate, reflective touch, Lambert is playing in the virtual jazz club of his dreams. As he recalls, it took lockdown’s privations to bring him musically home. “I called Luca and said, ‘Please, I want to make some jazz music. During the worst lockdown, maybe this way of making music might connect us.’ It didn’t bring me back to jazz, though. It never went away. When I don’t know what to play, it’s always jazz I reach for.”
That love started in another lifetime under another name, when Lambert was a 12-year-old in Hamburg, rebelling at his classical piano lessons, and sent instead to a new teacher’s seedy digs. “He had a small apartment completely dedicated to jazz music,” Lambert recalls, “and there was a feeling of a scene behind it that I didn’t completely understand, a secret club with arcane knowledge to be shared.”
Lambert’s studies at the Amsterdam Conservatory were often an exercise in disillusionment, as disapproving teachers brought him down. Moving to bohemian Berlin in 2008, its free improv scene was just as hosHle to a young pianist who appreciated the popular, tuneful beauty of Bill Evans, and the further out melodic flights of Brad Mehldau and Keith Jarrett. A wild trio gig where the crowd roared on his Fender Rhodes solos aggravated more austere bandmates, who summarily sacked him. It was a turning point.
Beneath the mask, though, Lambert could be anyone. Liberated, he began to move between worlds. False (2020) and the Stimming x Lambert collaboration Positive (2021), combining improv with electronic production, dropped progressively greater hints at his secret musical identity. “And now,” he says, “I feel free to make an album that actually sounds like jazz.”
Dedicating his early life to jazz, Lambert dutifully followed other people’s paths, and found only roadblocks and rules telling him he was wrong. The masked character of Lambert built his own path, which he was free to walk down as he wished. And now here he is, a jazz musician afer all.
“It took me a long way to get here,” he agrees. “And when I tour this album I will have a classic jazz band with drums and double-bass. As soon as people see that, what I’m doing will be clear.” The romantic jazz ideal he longed for, the secret world of knowledge, creativity and a Bill Evans-style trio – Lambert’s finally living it all.