FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 2010

FMP CD 146

Felix Klopotek


Open improvisation based on the tradition and culture of Jazz - in short: Free Jazz - has by now been around for fifty years already, which means that it is no wonder that those (still/yet again) playing this kind of music have to allow themselves to be called traditionalists. When we talk about improvised music today, we usually mean that faction which insists on not having anything in common with Jazz, and understands improvisation as radical, without any preconditions, or as it was once put, non-idiomatic.

But this school, as well, is “old”, forty years old by now - if we agree on the pieces of the Music Improvisation Company (Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Hugh Davies and Jamie Muir) as their founding documents. For a long time there has been a kind of traditionalistic ‘lack of preconditions’: Musicians who try to improvise so “purely” that, in their abstract radical attitude, they don’t realize how predictable their playing has become - because for fear of making some kind of “idiomatic mistake”, they destroy any kind of spirited (fearless) playing together.

You can very easily avoid these problems in improvisation, on the other hand, by turning the tables - improvisation not sanctified as holy water but as the most appropriate means of access to half submerged memories, discovering one’s very own fantasies and the joys of playing together.

In 1978, a rather unusual album was released on the FMP label. Well, at that time, quite a number of unusual albums were released on that label. The duo recording of Radu Malfatti and Stephan Wittwer, the first signs of life of Voice Crack (Andy Guhl / Norbert Möslang), “Der Traum der roten Palme” by Martin Theurer and Paul Lovens. Radically experimental music with an unwavering desire for exploration.

But this particular album from 1978 is, once again, totally different from the others. What they have in common is that the musicians play their normal chosen instruments. “Buben” (FMP 0530), the joint album of Rüdiger Carl and Hans Reichel, in contrast, is characterized by the fact that the musicians exclusively play those instruments which they for a long time had put aside. They are their first instruments, evidence from their childhood: Reichel can be heard on the violin, Carl on concertina, a small accordion, an instrument circus clowns like to tamper with. Reichel, as guitar player the most distinguished soloist of the FMP universe even at that time, and Carl, known to people as an intoxicating tenor saxophonist, on “Buben”, left their well-protected area of virtuosity and advanced into a world of anecdotes and childhood memories, of folk songs and improvisation, structured like counting-out rhymes. Conceptual music - which, however, at no point sounds preconceived. Free improvisation was actually re-invented at the moment of their playing.

Carl and Reichel, who were sharing a flat in Wuppertal at that time, have remained true over the years: The “Buben” experiment was followed by the Bergisch-Brandenburgische Quartet at the beginning of the eighties (with Luten Petrowsky and - Carl’s and Reichel’s soul mate - Sven-Åke Johansson), and finally the September Band (with Shelley Hirsch and Paul Lovens, among others). It is always about gestures and stories, about the great challenge to tell an old joke in a way that one has to laugh oneself. The groups around Reichel and Carl generate songs out of their improvisations in the twinkling of an eye - or rather, to be more precise: musical picture puzzles where melodies and grooves, snatches of old pop music, tastes and smells of the whole wide world, all of a sudden appear.

Rüdiger Carl knows that this requires an outright, like-minded group of committed people, it is a continuous characteristic of his artistic career for him to look for continuous exchange with the same musicians, and often over decades: Apart from Reichel and Johansson there are Irène Schweizer, for example, the Frankfurt conceptionalists Oliver Augst and Christoph Korn, or the violin player Carlos Zingaro, who Carl played with already at the beginning of the nineties in the trio Canvas (with bass player Joëlle Léandre). And this is why Manuela, even though the group only played very few concerts, is one of those committed fraternities. Apart from Carl, Reichel and Zingaro, Jin Hi Kim from Korea is the fourth in the quartet. She is, however, not unknown in this circle, there is a session together with Hans Reichel from the year 1993.

Whoever knows the joint music of Reichel and Carl is aware that, also in Manuela, all of the signs are swapped around. Manuela’s art lies in the fact that none of the musicians pushes themselves in to the foreground but everybody is present all of the time, nonetheless. Even though the musicians prefer the clear-cut, direct, interactive playing together, which makes the sound become very transparent, the individual musicians disappear within the group playing. There are no solos and should one such occur, it doesn’t mark the “ high point” of a piece or the ultimate ego trip. There is no lead instrument or a central creative director. Manuela is a collective thing in the truest sense of the word - in which, however, the musicians fully live out their very own sound fantasies (this is reminiscent of the utopian socialist Charles Fourier who, 180 years ago, had the subversive-quaint idea that mankind could only achieve full harmony if everybody could undiminishedly express their drives and needs).

Carl, who pursued the path of “Buben” even more forcefully than Reichel and abandoned the tenor saxophone in the eighties in order to make clarinet and the accordion his preferred instruments, can often be heard on the claviola here, a mutant melodica resembling the sounds of the Chinese sheng. Reichel hardly touches his guitar now, but acts more like a percussionist on the Daxophone with its deep bowing and knocking sounds, as if he had taken over Paul Lovens’ role in the September Band. Jin Hi Kim can freely move between Carl and Reichel with the sounds of her Komungo, the Korean fretted, hole-bodied zither - more onomatopoeic when going in Carl’s direction, more rhythmically orientated in Reichel’s direction. She is omnipresent - especially because her playing does not force itself intrusively between Carl and Reichel, but very precisely fills the spaces. Carlos Zingaro, who was among the first John-Cage interpreters in Portugal more than forty years ago, which makes him an expert sound explorer, is allowed to indulge in richly decorated, squiggly gestures. Paradoxically this never comes across as kitsch or eclectic but systematically follows the combined general line.

The musicians treat each other gently, only in order to develop motifs as a group all the more boisterously - motifs which are then thoroughly put through the mincer, which can lead to quite some chaos in a number of the pieces. But it is warm chaos, gentle euphoria and tremendously stimulating. You can see flashes of new ideas for new Grooves’n’Loops.

The message of these radical improvisors is that there is musical life beyond improvisation. In order to get to know this kind of life and enjoy its countless mutations and variants you don’t have to leave improvisation behind. It is absolutely sufficient to put it into the hands of long-term friendships.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

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