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 Felix Weigt 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.”
The love for jazz 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.”
By the time he was 17, Bill Evans’ Explorations was his lodestar, listened to obsessively while also learning to smoke and quaff red wine. A romantic ideal formed. “I had a certain picture of a jazz lifestyle,” Lambert agrees, “and I kept on believing that this life must exist somewhere out there. I was completely sure that I’d one day be a touring jazz musician, and have my own style.”
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 hostile 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 gig where the crowd roared on his Fender Rhodes solos aggravated more austere bandmates, who summarily sacked him. It was a turning point.
“I got a little lost in Berlin,” he says ruefully. “I thought, ‘I have to become someone new.’ That was Lambert. The mask has something to do with that background. I thought, I need this guy to reinvent myself.”
This new creation, bringing rock and pop notions of alter egos and mystery to neo-classical concert halls, was an instant hit. Lambert let the boy who’d been bruised by jazz become a new man. “When I started being Lambert, I was embarrassed by my jazz background,” he says. “The first album, Lambert , was promoted in the neo-classical world, I used a more classical touch, and I got a great reception. I kept secret that I still identified as a jazz musician.”
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 othe