FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004

OWN 90001

Bianca Tänzer


A musician, a woodwind player, who doesn't just play the alto and baritone saxophone, clarinet and flute, but also uses the piano and the zither, employs voice and language, and a singer who sings, speaks, whistles - and is silent, and also a room with microphones, all this sets the scene for "Features Of Usel". No other electro-acoustic or electronic extras. Only these two with their voices - nothing else… Thus originated a 73 minute long play on tone, speech, and sound, an audio-play. That this would lead to something which is part aural play, or even a festival for the ear, is another story.

This Brüning/Petrowsky team has been in existence for a decade and a half. Their first joint record recording was a two minute version of the Rodgers-Hart ballad "My Funny Valentine" which nowadays sounds almost classical in its pure simplicity. This was sung by the then already popular pop and jazz singer Uschi Brüning, sensitively accompanied by Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky, who was respected in the Euro-American jazz scene. That was ten years ago. In the meantime the two of them have played together in concert in many European and Asian countries, as well as separately as members of well-known jazz ensembles, both large and small, travelling half the globe, and in later years appearing more and more in Germany. This resulted in both of them closely reflecting and concentrating on the voice as an instrument, and the instrument as voice. They discovered and invent compositional dramatic sequences which adhere to and use, also by means of intonement, musical archetypes such as call and response, loud and soft, high and low, and classical models such as theme and variation and rondo forms, and also younger themes in musical history like the expressiveness between whispering and shouting At the same time, they use these in such a fresh, free, cheeky manner, that it is a stimulating joy to the ear and mind. It is in the nature of things that in this the singing voice - i. e. mainly Brüning - is apparently subordinate if not inferior to the respective instrument. The way in which she gets around this, joins forces with the instrument and is picked up by it, by parodising and satirizing the articulation of wind-players in her relaxed (feminine?)) manner, and also by using a range of devices to make herself heard, is both magnificent and indescribable.

To hear them in concert or canned is to take part in their complex process of teamwork and communication. This can at best happen with other duos. What then makes the Brüning/Petrowsky-Usel aural adventure so different? A male and female musician with a pronounced sense of fun and awareness of human communication are at work here: Petrowsky who since the early fifties has been inspired as a saxophonist by the great Parker, Coltrane and Coleman to find his own direction, and who also earns his bread as a musical entertainer, and Brüning who was encouraged in the mid-sixties by Aretha Franklin's songs among others and so discovers her love of singing, and fights her way through practically the entire realm of singing, from song to chanson, blues to soul, standard to the improvised. In all this both had to learn to realize that they move in musical spheres which despite being a subculture nevertheless have their fans, but officially meet with more scepticism or rejection than recognition. These experiences, together with their creative inquisitiveness, enables them to work consistently on a type of music which not only needs very few words but also very clearly makes fun of overtly significant talk and meaningful verbiage (and not only in the world of art and music).

First Petrowsky and then the duo Brüning/Petrowsky developed this into a kind of composed improvised dialogue which sounds like music-theatrically produced short stories, droll comic-like cryptic stories, sketched in acoustic suggestion, sound symbols, and tonal gestures. They have made use of their observations of and their anger at the way in which people treat not only art but also each other, and have developed their own cabaret-like jazz with the unrestrained desire to make themselves and others listen.

With them you can experience live a duo between duel and duet. Their Usel concept allows a complex dialogue, a real aural exchange (with pauses to reflect and hear, by listening and responding) to develop out of their playful-supreme way of using both voices and instruments. Apparently beyond all technical bounds, they let us experience the interplay between two people - that which can take place between shouting at, and whispering to one another, and playing together yet not together, right up to the point of interchange, understanding and accord. The way in which they express and experience this musically shows us as we are and provokes amazement, deep thought, and unrepressed laughter.

Translation: Margaret Neuendorf

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