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


Thomas Rothschild


Expedition into the unknown

Anything that can be said about Albert Mangelsdorff and his trombone is maybe even more true of Alfred 23 Harth and his saxophone: He uses his instrument to tell stories. One can therefore describe Harth's music and his involvement with various groups as being a continuous search for (hitherto undiscovered) means of expression. Unlike Jan Garbarek for example, who sticks tenaciously to his own particular sound once he has found it, and can therefore always be identified after the first two bars, Harth continually journeys into the unknown and takes the risk which all explorers take - that he may not find anything of importance. But this is what makes Harth's musical expeditions, expeditions on which the saxophone no longer suffices, so exciting. He takes his listeners with him on his journeys, but does not tell them beforehand what awaits them and what they should expect. He astounds them - and sometimes seems to be astounded himself - with the music his instrument and his performances with various carefully chosen partners produces.

The history of music is to a great extent the history of melody, just as for a long time the history of art was the history of the visually pleasing picture, and the history of the theatre was the history of grace and dignity. However, anyone who experiments with means of expression, who wants to reveal the whole truth (in music as well) cannot depend on melody alone. Truth - Shakespeare or Bosch were aware of this - is not always good and beautiful (in fact it is seldom so) and goodness and beauty are very often not genuine. Alfred Harth is not afraid of producing sounds which could be unpleasant or even torturous for {some of) his audience. One of the tricky things about art appreciation is that something which at one particular moment of time seems irritating or even ugly, very soon gives us pleasure - once we have started to get used to it. When seen against the background of belcanto, which dominates our tradition, Bob Dylan's music (and before him Louis Armstrong's) was a sheer provocation, and was - at first - regarded as being ugly. In time, at least in a particular subculture, this norm was replaced by another. Thus the pure enjoyment of music is subject to continual change. To make the audience sensitive to the original disturbing effect of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Michael Gielen once directed Schönberg's "Überlebenden aus Warschau" between the third and fourth movement. He de-familiarised the one work - the substance of which he did not want to alter - by introducing the other. Harth can continually set himself apart in the world of jazz, by that I mean that he can change his method of playing and make it different, can overcome the "automatism of perception" and give us a new aural awareness.

Alfred 23 Harth has an affinity to Dadaism which makes itself apparent in his anarchistic views, and in the choice of witty, and often obscure titles for his pieces and in the names of the groups he plays with: Cassiber, Duck and Cover, Gestalt et Jive. The reason why the group featured on this CD is called Trio Trabant a Roma, for example, remains a complete mystery, just like the 23 in Harth's name or the title State of Volgograd. These mysteries can be solved rationally. Of course one needs the background knowledge which the musicians artfully keep to themselves. Just before the concert recorded on this CD the three of them were in Volgograd with Lindsay Cooper's and Sally {Orlando!) Potter's "Oh Moscow" project. The trio also took part in a festival of modern music in Strasbourg - fourth cut.

The mystery {and wit) behind many of the titles arises out of the incompatibility of their individual sections, from the fact that their various elements do not "fit together" either syntactically or semantically. This principle is repeated again and again in the music of many of the ensembles Alfred 23 Harth has worked with. It seems to fall to pieces, does not seem to be intact. If after a few bars you think you know the way things are going, you suddenly find you are mistaken, that you have been mislead. Harth's principle is heterogeneity rather than homogeneity, the "unity" which is often called for, and which is closely linked with the traditional concept of beauty. Harth delivers "piece"-work in the literal sense of the word. His aesthetic sense resembles that of some experimental film-makers who seemingly put the frames together in a completely haphazard manner. {By the way, main movies et negentropical territories could be the name of a film by Jon Jost.)

Alfred 23 Harth has always seen his music as being political - like Heiner Goebbels or the English avant-gardists he likes working with. This should not be understood in a narrow, flat sense, and one should take care not to interpret this music in a vulgar-materialistic way. Usually an argumentation, a series of thoughts develop which are often accompanied by rebellious gestures and increasingly by a return to insight, to a consciousness which is by no means unassuming.

As mentioned this is not the first time Alfred 23 Harth has played with the bassoonist and saxophonist Lindsay Cooper and the singer Phil Minton. He has found a kindred spirit in the English woman - this becomes particularly apparent when the two of them enter into a dialogue involving various wind instruments. Sometimes it is more of a stammer, then almost the soft sound of love, sometimes increasing in intensity, sometimes almost ceasing altogether, and sometimes threatening to end in an argument which Phil Minton's voice seems to settle. In et all ways Budapest though, the voice forces its way impertinently between Alfred 23 Harth's and Lindsay Cooper's blissfully harmonic keyboards. Harth had previous encounters with Phil Minton in the group reminiscent of Samuel Beckett called Vladimir Estragon. They recorded a CD with the splendid title Three Quarks For Muster Mark.

It is characteristic of the aforementioned "piece"-work, that flashes of musical quotations keep appearing: not so much concrete sequences of notes, as genres and styles such as the chanson, the blues or African folklore.

We should not forget to mention that this CD was recorded in the community centre in the Dieselstraße in Esslingen. Here, as in many other unattractive places in the Republic, excellent jazz is presented all year round. Local authorities take pride in organising festivals, when a few days are packed full with spectacular highlights. This means that enough money is left to be able to subsidise events when times are harder, and this makes for headline news. The time which a lot of people sacrifice to work for the jazz cause, which they devote - to use a somewhat outdated but nonetheless honourable term - to the cultivation of the arts, usually goes unnoticed and unappreciated. For example, Dieselstraße offers us a non-stop jazz festival - even if it is not recognised as such. One of its highlights has been recorded on this CD.

Translation: Margaret Neuendorf

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