FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1992-2004

OWN 90012

Felix Klopotek


"Do not push sounds around." (Morton Feldman)

The structural upheavals in Jazz of the sixties, the rising up of a music of improvisation which no longer exclusively draws from the reservoir of Jazz but utilises the structural language of New Music, has brought along a huge flood of solo recordings featuring the widest variety of instruments. While the in-public, unaccompanied solo in Jazz was limited to the piano, and solo excursions of Sonny Rollins and Eric Dolphy were the exceptions (as well as a preview of what was to come), after, lets say: Anthony Braxton's "For Alto" (1969), there was no stopping.

Today, solo recordings of Braxton, Lacy, Evan Parker and, to a large extent: Wolfgang Fuchs, Roscoe Mitchell, John Zorn, Hans Koch, John Butcher, Peter Brötzmann or Kaoru Abe are taken for granted as part of the improvisation canon (not even to mention the bass, percussion, tuba and guitar solos). They fall within the purview of materials research, of the freeing the playing of an instrument from conventional roles (the bass no longer as the accompanying instrument, the soprano no longer the exotic) and the emergence of an individual form of expression: it is certainly an egocentric pleasure that one of the first publications of a young Chicago alto player is the first ever saxophone solo (double!) album.

It would be easy to place the solo pieces of the other young reed player Gregor Hotz, born two years after the recording of "For Alto", within this same purview. Not only because his matter-of-fact way of dealing exclusively with himself and the particular instrument proves that soloing has become exactly THE classic discipline in improvisation. Furthermore, this Swiss musician, living in Berlin, has worked with Wolfgang Fuchs, Steve Lacy and Hans Koch. The interchange across generations is thus taken as read.

As I said, it would be easy .... but adopting this point of view misses out on one essential element of improvisation: the fact that it has created a line of tradition that you cannot just continue along but rather have to add to of your own doing. The continuity of music improvisation, as paradoxical as it may sound, defines itself out of the discontinuity of the scheme. In practice, this is very simple: the solo discipline is as accepted as it is because Koch does not sound like Braxton and Fuchs sounds completely different from Parker. Everybody just does his own thing, they say. But on further refection it shows that the simple things are the difficult ones to execute. This is because materials research and individual expression requires reflection on what kind of research, expression one is dealing with. To do your thing means knowing what does not belong to doing your thing. Again, this sounds very simple, but it isn't. How does saxophone player xy know that getting on stage and doing one hour of energy-blasting is not his thing? Through experience. And how does he know that experience is experience and not just having a bad (or good) day? Good question. Through reduction, for example through consistent elimination of ideas, or rather subordinate clauses and expletives until, no, not the bare essence, rather this easy to use tool remains, stringently restructuring that which has been eliminated. Solo improvising means tidying up.

This is why, in the solo pieces of Gregor Hotz nothing special happens – in the sense that the out of the ordinary, the extras when you're buying a new car, are usually the parts which break before anything else and are disproportionately expensive to repair. When applied to the area of music this means: nothing extravagant, no tiresome virtuosity, no spaces with twenty seconds of echo that would be considered perfectly suited for a solo. None of all this. Instead: releasing the material from its ornamental clasps until it seems to be playing itself. Clear parameters. Don't play noodles. And then: Improvise sans phrase. Without higher concepts (maybe except for the intimate, banal ones the musician creates in his head and which he should please keep to himself), without wasting a single thought on wanting to deliver a masterpiece. The recording is only good when you know that nobody has been waiting for it (just as nobody had been waiting for Braxton). This is why Gregor Hotz cannot be considered under the aforementioned perspective – while his playing would not be possible without a previous knowledge of this perspective. His music happens because it is improvised, played without any canonical intention. Very simple, very complicated (didn't we have this before?)


The straight lines of the alto clarinet meet a bowed cello. Slowly and breathtakingly reserved those relationships reformulate from the solo vocabulary – characteristically recorded after the duos - which constitute another essential element of Improvisation: collectivity – be it only a collectivity of twoness. Hotz shares his vocabulary with the cello player Nicholas Bussmann who is roughly the same age. Motifs, reduced to a few sounds, floating in such a sublime manner that even the ringing of a telephone is unable to disturb them, are taken up from the other and are spun out. Here, as well, applies, in all deadly seriousness: don't do anything out of the ordinary, leave out anything complicated, don't try to astonish. Because every successful surprise (threatening to repeat itself by its very success) becomes, through repetition, a lick, a variety number. You can hear how unimportant discernible rhythmic proportions or melodies are to them (nothing against time and certainly nothing against melody!). They are already implied in the fleeting-elegantly sketched sounds of the duo (that's enough). And you can hear how important, important in the sense of a naturalistic materialism, the stroking of a bow across the strings is. It is the peculiar feeling of a tension which is not aimed at an objective but is contented in itself.

And this is what's important.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

zurück / back