The latter, a comment from the British music magazine The Wire, perhaps sums up the quintessence of Oliver Steidle’s accomplishments. Although he moves for the most part between the musical worlds of free jazz and new music, he is always focused on clarity of sound. He makes even the most complex rhythms comprehensible, while playing uncomplicated music with intense expression is a professed goal. Like so few, he succeeds in finding the right proportion of sound and energy. Beneficial no doubt was the shaping of musical versatility and variability from an early age. In his hometown Nürnberg, he started on piano before changing to drums at the age of 11. At 14, he was a fan of hardcore rock and punk bands the likes of Slayer, Mr. Bungle, or Napalm Death. Even today he describes rock as his musical origin, reconnecting to these roots in many of his recent projects.
This is carried out, of course, while incorporating knowledge of the jazz tradition, and its harmonic and melodic foundations. Already at the age of 16, Steidle had experimented with the vibraphone. After which he played in garage rock bands, as well as in jazz big bands before beginning a course of study at the Music Conservatory Nürnberg, under Hans Günther Brodmann, jazz drum teacher and jazz department head. Brodmann, a role model of stylistic openness, remains to this day a close friend of Steidle. Via the music conservatory, Steidle began to play in the Bavarian state youth jazz orchestra, the top ensemble in Bavaria. From there, it was only a small step to the first professional bands. Today, Steidle has performed with many of the great players of jazz, including Tomasz Stanko, Louis Sclavis, Sean Bergin, Vincent Courtouis, Ernst Reijseger, Josh Roseman, Simon Nabatov, Nils Wogram, Adam Pieronzcyk and Walter Wierbos.
By the end of the nineties, Nürnberg had become too confining for Steidle. He had won two music competitions, and was invited by pianist Ritschie Beirach for an extended stay in New York. In the year 2000, Steidle moved to Berlin, where he was immediately integrated into the jazz scene, the most vibrant in Germany, and is now an integral member. In 2002, he was a founding member of Klima Kalima, the trio led by Finish guitar player Kalle Kalima. He also joined the band Der Rote Bereich, with Frank Möbus on guitar, (one of Steidle’s former teachers, who also encouraged the move to Berlin), and Rudi Mahall, bass clarinet, both Berliner emigrants from Nürnberg, like himself. Der Rote Bereich would become immensely popular. Due to its unorthodox orchestration and avant-garde approach, the trio is known as one of the most prominent European jazz Trios. In 2005, it won the German record critic’s award for the Album “Live in Montreux”. In 2006 the trio was awarded the prestigious national Jazz award, the German Jazz Prize. Two years later with the band Klima Kalima, Steidle not only repeated this feat, but he was also awarded the prize for best soloist.
These are not the only prominent projects with which the tireless Oliver Steidle plays. Since 2003, he belongs to guitar player John Schröder’s trio, Uli Kempendorff’s Quartet Field, Aki Takase’s Tama Trio, the Hong Kong Quintet with Alexander von Schlippenbach, Philipp Gropper’s Quartet Philm, and in the collective band Outliers with Toby Delius, Haarard Wilk, and Clayton Thomas. In each of these bands, Steidle plays an individual and slightly different role, up to modern instant composition projects, such as those from Tristan Honsiger and Axel Dörner. In this context, Steidle alters the sound character of his drums with the use of objects ranging from cymbals to household appliances, producing a sound quite unlike the conventional drum sound. He collaborated with Ensemble Courage in the Maerz Musik Festival, performing the world premiere of compositions of the Swiss drummer Michael Wertmüller, who like Steidle has experimented over many years with various forms of New Music. With his involvement in the Bikini Orchestra, Steidle makes a contribution to the positive trend in which large ensembles experiment with new and unusual sounds.
Steidle also uses this versatility in diverse self-initiated projects, among others the Duos ddAa with Antonis Anissegos, and Lenina in collaboration with Daniel Erdmann, as well as the humorous Collective Band, Rowk Music (Ronny Graupe, Wanja Slavin und again Kalle Kalima), which operates within rock and jazz traditions. Also belonging to the category of collectively led bands is the trio Die dicken Finger, with guitarist Olaf Rupp and bassist Jan Roder, modelled after the hard rock styles of grindcore and metal. The athletic competition, and self-serving ossified virtuosity of the originals, is substituted with spirited improvisation and radical tempo changes. In 2014, the trio completed an extended tour with Peter Brötzmann, saxophone legend, and veteran of the German free jazz scene, with whom, somewhat logically, Steidle has collaborated on occasion for many years.
Steidle´s blood, sweat, and tears flows not least into the band SoKo Steidle, founded already in 2004. All sound colors and forms are intended to emerge out of nowhere. “The important question here is how we can combine swing and jazz traditions with modern sounds and rhythms, that is to say their extended and abstracted treatment in the form of free improvisation”. The development of the concept, together with Rudi Mahall, Henrik Walsdorff und Jan Roder, has taken place exclusively during live concerts, through the conscious exclusion of rehearsal. After over 100 concerts across Europe, and four CDs, this concept functions not only extremely well, but an unmistakably original band sound has also emerged in the process.
The newest of his many undertakings, initiated in 2013 is the Quartet Oli Steidle & the killing Popes, with the line-up of Frank Gratkowski, Kalle Kalima und Petter Eldh, where Steidle draws purposefully on his hardcore and punk rock roots. The result of his intensive involvement with these aesthetics is the translation of the immense energy of this music into the formal language of jazz. For the first time, he wrote lyrics for his songs, an expression of his growing interest in recent years in political themes. Concrete political statements find their way into songs like “Monopoly Experiment”, or “Robin Hood Index”, a continuation of the old and almost forgotten jazz tradition.
With such a multitude of activities, it is no wonder that Steidle is constantly on tour, a veritable festival champion. For quite some time, he has played in at least a dozen worldwide festivals each year, with increasing tendency. Countless tours, among others initiated and sponsored from the German Music Council, or the Goethe Institute, have taken him throughout Europe and the USA, as well as to China, India, and Yemen. The globalized world is increasingly able to hear the no less globalized music of Oliver Steidle. For Steidle, this is only a beginning.