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


Bert Noglik


Rooted to the ground yet taking off. Still in touch with the ground, but already taking off. New Music in the process of its creation. Three individuals, whose mentalities and musicality find each other, although originating from completely different areas of experience. The getting together of Leo Smith, Peter Kowald and Günter Sommer at the end of the seventies, beginning of the eighties marks a special case in Improvised Music. The trio falls outside of the framework of developments described in terms of American Jazz or 'European emancipation', it does not aim at the dissolution of the rhythmic continuum and the sensitivity to the minute details of sounds of British provenance, nor at the abstractions of Powerplay, nor at the ethnically influenced ways of playing of 'Great Black Music'. Obviously, in the same way, that everything can be found in everything, the trio Smith/Kowald/Sommer has its associations with all of the above mentioned areas of playing, but the fundamental approach is different, it originates from the superimposing of the different approaches. With its strange movement between static and drive, between meditation and expression, this music is not fixed to a particular time period, races ahead of developments in a totally unspectacular way. 15 years later, Günter Sommer said, that during that period, answers were given and questions were asked simultaneously. Their wish to get back together had become stronger over the years, because the ground they had tilled together had never really been reaped. Smith/Kowald/Sommer or Chicago-Wuppertal-Dresden, as the trio called itself alluding to their places of departure, sparkles as an unfinished chapter in the history of music.

Trio-situation. In the unusual combination of instruments trumpet or flugelhorn, bass and drums plus extras such as percussion, organ-pipes, sanza, etc., which are not seen just as "little instruments", but as voices having similar rights, all three musicians are - consistently - of equal importance. The music defines itself through the notes which are played just as much as through those which are omitted. The requirement to operate constantly both as a collective and as soloist, led to increased attentiveness and sensibility. Since working in trio with Leo Smith and Günter Sommer, Peter Kowald has put his groups together very consciously and has hardly acted as 'sideman' anymore. In the course of this process - parallel to his "Hörmusik"*, the duo with Hans-Günther Wauer and the quartet with Fred Van Hove, Phil Wachsmann and Mark Charig - , Günter Sommer developed a way of playing, which attributed a previously unknown importance to the combination of sound and rhythm and how they develop in space. And Leo Smith has integrated his musical conception into a context together with European improvisers, something which was, at that time, not only completely new in itself, but which also led to new results. A fundamental condition for being able to constantly listen and react to each other is, above all, the transparent tone of the trio. Even more important is, perhaps, the unprejudiced openness in the way the three musicians deal with each other.

World-situation. Peter Kowald has said, that in constellations such as the trio with Leo Smith and Günter Sommer, each of them was able to bring in his own experiences and at the same time play with the experiences of the others. And indeed, the trio manifests an approach of combining the different playing traditions without actually agreeing on any common denominator. With Chicago-Wuppertal-Dresden came into consciousness what had been developing for a long time in different circles of Improvised music: the possibility of getting close to each other without having to deny oneself.

Concentration. In the case of Leo Smith, through his feeling for discontinuous clusters full of tension and through his way of producing sounds full of nuances , each sound gains in importance, particularly through his use of economy. Regarding Leo Smith's playing, Günter Sommer has pointed to his sense of what's valid: Improvisation as binding the playing in a sequence of lived moments. Peter Kowald has mentioned the "undramatic" character of Leo Smith's music. Leo never wanted to get anywhere, he was always there already.

Extension. By taking music back to its basic elements, Leo Smith - in theory as well as in his musical practice - broke through the frontiers of an aesthetic limited to partial areas. Leo Smith's driving force i.e. impetus, sound, silence, rhythms and space, have to be created by the innovative improviser, out of the moment, but at the same time out of the entire accumulated experience of life. Just how far the horizon of such experiences stretches may be seen in the cultural "interlocking" that takes place in the group's interplay. Leo Smith, who comes from the Mississippi-Delta and has grown up with the Blues, which he understands as an emotional matrix rather than as a concrete type of material, adds sounds to the playing of the trio which are reminiscent of European contemporary music. Günter Sommer, on the other hand, takes up the gestures of Afro-American drumming, without getting caught in a dead-end road of imitation. Within the process of self-expression, Peter Kowald, at the same time, knows how to integrate, how to pick up on relationships, and how to further develop the complexity of playing together. Over a number of years, this talent has enabled him to develop a variety of creative working relationships with musicians from Europe, America and Japan.

Spirit. Like a little tribe they got together, a rare ethno group with different backgrounds. In a mini-van they toured the impassable areas of the "culture industry", turned up to do concerts here and there, playing a kind of music, which left those stunned, who committed themselves to listen. With their feet on the ground, but taking off just a little bit. Without a message, but with a claim: with sounds and rhythms, which are enough in themselves and at the same time point to something else.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

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