Bob Rusch (1977)
Part One: in which the author tries to get your attention
The preceding was just a sophomoric way of trying to get your attention, or at least every writing class that l ever attended or taught always suggested that one open a piece in such a manner in an attempt to get the reader's attention and further involvement. What I am going to try to relate to you is some information about music from the Free Music Production Record Company (FMP) of West Germany, and in particular people with names like Brötzmann, Van Hove, Bennink, von Schlippenbach, Hans Reichel. But what I really want to try to convince you to do is to invest in at least one recording because otherwise the experience of reading this will be largely meaningless.
Now I know from letters received at Cadence that there are many readers who, on the basis of some rave, will take the risky initiative of buying a record of something completely new to them, an artist or style they are unfamiliar with - as a result we get letters, almost uniform in their wording, weekly, that say "I just wanted to thank Cadence for mentioning ______ ______, I got the record and really enjoy it. If it hadn't been for Cadence, I would have never known it existed". But I know there are many like myself, who, because of economics or reasons of cultural security and familiarity, do not venture into the unknown until somehow we are made aware and familiar of something in a more circumspect manner; i.e. audible coverage, such as radio play backed up by word of mouth and press coverage and local record store display and availability - support which is generally missing from many of the records covered in Cadence and which is in only small part compensated for by average level of intelligence and daring of a Cadence reader. I will admit that if I were not a writer and editor of Cadence, that I would still be largely ignorant of the joy of an Andrew White, Fraser McPherson, Joe McPhee, Papa John Kolstad, etc. But the fact that a record company that has been around for almost a decade, and with near 50 records in its catalogue, should have been so unfamiliar to me is a testament not only to my lack of investigation, but even more so an indictment on the reporting of the popular jazz critics and press that we are dependent upon to a large degree in the United States. For me the Free Music Production recordings have been one of the great musical awakenings and satisfactions of the 1970's.
The amazing thing about the music here is that with a little effort much of the music produced is accessible to exclusive (if willing) listeners of other styles unless permanent petrification and prejudice have settled upon your ears. Certainly within the FMP music I have found music which not only appeals to the Ornette-Coltrane-Lacy aspects of my taste, but also to the King Oliver, Bechet, Monk and Mingus elements as well. Although clearly the music will have the greatest appeal and impact on those already into free jazz.
About the only thing that is predictable about the music is that unless you make an effort to hear some of it, it will have no impact whatsoever.
Perhaps it would be instructive if I reviewed how I came to the music. I would guess the first notice of a name was on the Eric Dolphy "Last Date" (1964 - Limelight) record which had Han Bennink on drums. Jazz Forum (in particular issue #38, late 1975) would occasionally make reference to "names" as did Melody Maker and the now defunct Jazz & Blues (formerly Jazz Monthly). When we began Cadence we would often get gentle nudges and references from Martin and Mandy Davidson, and not so gentle nudges from Milo Fine that there were exciting things happening to free jazz by Europeans. But still the experience is secondary, rather vicarious and meaningless. Finally we received a letter from Matt Gardner of Innovative Record Co., wondering if we would be interested in covering some of the material they are importing and distributing to the United States. In line with Cadence's open policy of covering all things, we said sure, and forgot about it.
One day a package arrives from Innovative Record Company. Ordinarily we try to give, even if brief, a listen to what comes in before we reship it to our reviewers. Fortunately this was the case with Brötzmann's, Van Hove's and Bennink's "Outspan #2" (FMP 0200) from which I was stopped dead in my musical tracks - the music was great, it was my first direct association with FMP and I felt like a great blindness (unawareness) had been removed and there lay before me a whole area of music that not only was exciting, but also seemed very important (FMP 0200 reviewed Feb. '77, p. 35). Finally all those printed words that had previously been lost on me came into meaning - but only after I could associate it musically - and unless you make an effort, and are unfamiliar with the FMP this will all mean nothing to you as well, which is why I urge you to make yourself in some way accessible to this music. Free jazz has its own inherent obstacles to overcome before reaching receptive ears, and god knows European free jazz with the added obstacle of limited American importation and distribution has even greater obstacles. When I first heard some of this material I enthusiastically wrote to a friend whose capacity for openness and musical range is quite unlimited, and asked him if perhaps he was familiar with FMP material. His response was "no, I don't have any FMP, my impression of the label was that it was pretty far-out stuff. I'd thought about investigating that label, but my budget being what it is, I would rather buy things I'm more familiar with." Alas, after the reaction of "FMP what?", this is perhaps the next most common reaction. One of the main purposes of Cadence is to bring worthy (and not so worthy) music in all areas of Jazz and blues to your attention - it is for that purpose I would guess most people subscribe - this is the purpose of this overlong introduction - I urge you, for your own gratification, to investigate some of this music.
Part Two: in which the author briefly describes some of the music
For general excellence and perhaps the broadest appeal, I would suggest one might consider first investigating "Outspan #2" (Feb. '77 issue) or Breuker's Kollektief "Live in Berlin" on SAJ 06 (This is probably the most accessible or traditional of the lot), reviewed elsewhere in this issue. Both make excellent musical statements and make excellent use of a bizarre humour and irony which makes elements extremely accessible, and which marks much of the FMP work. A deadly serious, almost riotous, eruptive, anarchistic quality also marks much of the FMP work, and it has been felt by some that much of the music is devoid of Afro-American influences. Judging from what I have heard, I think this is highly inaccurate as the music is distinctly jazz and based upon that Afro-American cultural concept. There are definitely European/German aspects, and to make it as effective and artistically honest, those would have to be these influences but it is perhaps a natural merging of these two aspects. However, it has become more and more obvious, and these records bring this even more into focus, that as concerns new music in jazz, Americans are going to have to realize that the United States is no longer the only arena where sequential developments in new jazz are taking place. In fact this may be the last generation where innovative influences are almost exclusively draw from the Afro-American experience. Certainly Albert Ayler proves to be a greater influence in Europe than in his own country. Judging from what I hear, it's the Europeans more so than the Americans who are working with and further developing these ideas, and it is therefore not inconceivable that important new innovations or strains might develop from abroad. Even Americans who are pushing at new boundaries and horizons, i.e. Braxton, Mitchell, Lacy and a handful of others, have seemed to pick up much of their creative energy and support from outside the United States. It could be quite simply that after years of cultural neglect, systematic abuse, and environmental racism, a complacency grown, there will evolve a shift of continental balance.
The FMP has been recording since 1969, and three of their most prolific artists are: Peter Brötzmann, (a reed player and considered to be somewhat of a father figure in European free jazz), Fred Van Hove (piano) and Han Bennink (perc). They were joined by trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, who needs no introduction, for concerts during the "Free Music Market" held in Berlin in August 27-28, 1971. Out of that meeting came three records: "Elements" (FMP 0030), "Couscouss De La Mauresque" (FMP 0040) and "The End" (FMP 0050). The results are music devoid of great humour, but rather 'serious' free jazz, and efforts that are extraordinarily uniform and of high quality. It would be hard to single one album out, but for overall quality, I found FMP 0040 of greatest satisfaction. The title piece opens with a furious free exchange between Van Hove's piano and Bennink's drums, it is a bit sloppy, and with its excessive aspects, but out of it develops a fine dialogue between Brötzmann and Mangelsdorff. From this setting there comes a settling effect which draws the piano and drums into a more coherent structured free dialogue leading to an almost surrealistic exchange between Mangelsdorff and what sounds like a western dinner-call triangle with assorted ensemble noise support. It is an outstanding collaboration. Side two is taken up by "Wenn mein Schätzlein auf die Pauke haut" which follows along familiar free lines of development, culminating in a tense crescendoing climax - ending on that note with no musical release, it has a grasping effect on the body. There is another singular experience on "The End" (FMP 0050) during "Albert's" which is brought about by super extraordinary exchange solos between Brötzmann and Mangelsdorff. On all of these three records the compositions are extended (7 compositions in all) and they contain work by Mangelsdorff which is equal to his work on the "Wide Point" (MPS 20-22569-0) which, up to this point, was some of his best work I had ever heard by him.
On a Feb. 25, 1973 date the group recorded again, but without Mangelsdorff, and produced "Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink" (FMP 0130). Here there are ten short tracks averaging only four minutes. Perhaps because of their brevity, the effects of the music seem concentrated, the group does not get into their routines, loosing a slower more deliberate developmental effect. Sounds abound: bombs and bullets to Bronx cheers, with the music ranging from awkward boogie woogie to irreverent humour to a passion of a frightening nature to crescendos of physical and instrumental screams in which Brötzmann pushes his instruments (cl, as, ts, bar s, bs) to their extreme ranges. Even with the short tracks clearly differentiated, the record plays well as a whole or longer work. Some of the humour here is presented in "Gere Bij" which is built upon "Over There" (which I suppose is what "Gere Bij" means in German). As to whether "The Yanks are Coming", I'm not sure, but I suspect Brötzmann, Van Hove and Bennink are looking over their shoulder wondering where the hell they are. Another recording by this unholy trio "Tschüs" (FMP 0230) was made Sept. 14, 1975, with one track, "Zigan, Zigan" (4:54) recorded live a day earlier at the Latin Quarter in Berlin. This is perhaps the weakest of their records that I have heard, as there are a few tracks here that I found to drag terribly. However, it holds one's attention on the first listening for the same reason all of their recordings do - anticipation. You can never be sure on a first listening as to what kind of moves, sounds, routines this group is going to come up with and lay upon you. It is a surprise ball effect, although after one listening, some of the parts here become more drag than anticipation and we are not, thankfully, in an age of disposable records, just disposable music which is bad enough. Even with its weakness, there are many elements here well-suited to be representative of the group, such in the hyperkinetic energy, eruptive mockery, irony, the unheard of sounds and Ayleresque ranges, irreverent Germanese and a general uninhibited in/sanity, which marks so much of their work. Part of the problem for me is that on this record both Van Hove and Bennink, at times, utilize the accordion, which is not my favourite instrument and shows no greater virtue here.
Another aspect of the FMP records is the releases of the Globe Unity Orchestra work. The Globe Unity Orchestra is, if you can imagine, a free big band jazz group, under the general direction and production of pianist Alex Schlippenbach. The orchestra has been a meeting of the who's who of European free jazz and has included people like Steve Lacy, Evan Parker, Mangelsdorff, Paul Rutherford, Kenny Wheeler, Peter Kowald, Michel Pilz, Manfred Schoof, Brötzmann and Bennink in its ranks. "Live in Wuppertal" (FMP 0160) was recorded on March 25, 1973. The fact that it was live is important, as I feel some of these artists who would appear to be very extroverted, do best in a live enthusiastic and uninhibiting environment. The record opens with a short sarcastic ensemble working of "Wolverine Blues", an effective tension breaker and deciphering, but a strange opening track. It is followed by "Payan", a free ensemble piece which has its moments of explosive power but which is strangely faded out, perhaps producer Schlippenbach felt after this point it ceased to work. "Bollocks" features Kenny Wheeler's trumpet over free-floating rhythm and "Yarrak" some nice exchanges between B. Niebergall's bass and Paul Lovens' drums. This segues into a "Bavarian Calypso" aka "Muskrat Ramble" which serves the same function mentioned about "Wolverine Blues". The side ends with "Out of Burton's Songbook"/"Solidaritätslied" sounding like a mixture of John Lewis and Richard Wagner. It's very theatric, melodramatic music/march - the storming of the advancing troops or some such image - amusing imagery and entertaining, but not terribly satisfying music with seemingly little instant composition and improvisation. Side two is entirely devoted to Peter Kowald's (tuba, alphorn) "Maniacs". The piece opens on a taps-like wail with a slow dirge, bagpipe drone set up by the reeds and Bennink's bagpipes. Some furious trombone work (Paul Rutherford?) is developed, out of a free ensemble crescendo, a dialogue which is picked up and joined by Michel Pilz' baritone sax and which leads to a main section joined in with solo exchange between Bennink (as) and Brötzmann. (The trombonist I assume is Rutherford, as he is the only one I have heard with this kind of technique, although trombonist Gunter Christmann is also present on this date). Niebergall maintains the elasticity and tenseness of the work with some fine pizzicato bass work with Manfred Schoof or Wheeler lending effective trumpet jabs. The piece could logically end here, but the adrenalin is flowing and is picked up with a sax solo by either Evan Parker or Peter Brötzmann, or both, which is simply electrifying and which eventually the ensemble (rhythm) falls in behind and picks up - it is truly an amazing and explosive moment(s) from which one expects the sheer energy and invention to rip heads, speakers, tuners and instruments apart from this great explosion. It is free jazz at its finest and most ravaging moment and for me a transfusion of pure energy which will, I think, leave you weak. Musical technology, which is far ahead of the technology of literature to describe it. "Maniacs" is, for lack of a better word, simply incredible, but it doesn't mean a thing unless you yourself make the effort to experience it.
Globe Unity Special "Into The Valley: Vol. 2" (FMP 0270), was recorded live at Berlin's free music workshop. The music here is more differentiated in its individual free improvisations, the main reason besides those 'cosmic', is probably that the ensemble is smaller. Two extended cuts: the title track and "Of Dogs, Dreams and Death" both by Evan Parker make up this set. Besides Parker and Schlippenbach, there remains Wheeler, Rutherford, Kowald and Lovens, while included here are Steve Lacy, Gerd Dudek (ts), Mangelsdorff, and an unidentified dog who makes his vocal contribution on "Of Dogs, etc". For me this was more an effort of things trying to happen than actually happening, and it would be unfair to compare this to the work of "Live in Wuppertal" which has such a special moment in "Maniacs" that to compare anything to it would almost guarantee anti-climax. Mangelsdorff and Wheeler begin to develop things on "Valley", but it doesn't catch fire, while on "Dogs, Dreams and Death" there seems to be a malaise of feeling the situation out, which lasts too long before Schlippenbach tried to pull it together with some authoritative piano percussion. Even so, the remainder is not spectacular, an average ensemble climax which breaks for a high register exchange between Lacy, Parker and Lovens (musical saw) which is forgettable and so it goes for the rest of the track - much ado about nothing, nothing distasteful or horrible, but at its best just average.
Alex Von Schlippenbach gets a trio outing on "Pakistani Pomade" (FMP 0110) joined by Lovens (dr) and Evan Parker (ss, ts) and recorded in Nov. '72. Seven originals, contributed by different members of the trio, make up this recording which is quite excellent and features some particularly well balanced free trio work. Parker is outstanding, actually everyone is, but his sax work is of greatest audio volume, doing things with his instruments that still today seem little explored. At one point he sounds like a trombone. Lovens is extremely attentively supportive, and yet his own man, not a time keeper. The time here is implied, when carried, and from the group. Music of a high level and well balanced between the trio, with strong work individually and as a group.
Another member of Globe Unity, trombonist Günter Christmann, has a record called "Remarks" (FMP 0260). Side one consists of four compositions performed by the duo of Christmann and Detlef Schönenberg (perc), while side two is split between three Christmann solo outings and four trio outings with Schönenberg and Harald Bojé (synthesizer). Christmann explores similar paths that Paul Rutherford has worked in, but is not as fragmented, or at least his solo work is more logical to my ears, although it also doesn't reach the high emotional peaks that Rutherford is capable of obtaining. I prefer side two and mainly for the fine interplay of the trio with the synthesizer, seemingly under man control, not running its own course so to speak, and it pairs very nicely with trombone and in good compliment. Again as with most of the FMP's, the drummer listens and is an equal member in the group interplay.
Percussionist Paul Lovens turns in some exemplary work on "Carpathes" (FMP 0250), joined by Michel Pilz (bcl) and Peter Kowald (b). Actually it is mostly Pilz' date as he appears throughout the record either in solo, trio or duo with Kowald. But it is Lovens who most impresses me here as he hammers, rings, jingles the percussion, managing to both give rhythmic freedom and abstraction while implying a more traditional rhythm and he sustains himself very well. Actually the rhythm is constantly outstanding in of themselves, as they often function quite aside of a traditional rhythm role and I enjoy the use of Kowald's bass which is almost horn-like on some of the eight originals here (recorded in Aug. and Sept. 1975). Pilz' bass clarinet technique is beyond question and has its strong moments, but there are also moments of vagueness and groping - however in balance of the whole it is minor and detracts little from the seriousness and high quality of the entire work. There are times, and this record is one, where I would like to hear the FMP group do a more familiar work. Something like an Ellington composition I think would lend itself so well to the general fabric of this trio and would not only be an appropriate and inspiring vehicle, but also add to the richness of an already rich work.
Pianist Ulrich Gumpert and percussionist Günter "Baby" Sommer make up the "Gumpert/Sommer Duo" and play music with typical free abandon but distinctive from the other FMP music discussed here. On "The Old Song" (FMP 0170) they are joined by alto saxist Manfred Hering on six of the 12 originals recorded in July (17/18) 1973. The music here seems to have a much greater sense of imposed structure which in the end result (moving - satisfying music) is the same as more loosely structured music. Here there seems to be a more conscious effort by individuals to lay back in specific areas and feature one voice. The most satisfying efforts are the encounters with Hering who in both high register playing and composition (also Gumpert) sounds strongly influenced by Albert Ayler. In fact some of the compositions sound like they could have been written by a German Ayler. The duo selections are full of energy and very hyperactive with the emphasis decidedly on percussion, but for me it is the sax sections that add the depth (and make the record the success that it is) and seem to inspire Gumpert's piano work to its greatest heights.
Gumpert and Sommer recorded again in March (6,7) 1974, and this time were joined by Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky's saxes, and Conrad Bauer's trombone for "Auf der Elbe schwimmt ein rosa Krokodil" on FMP 0240. Relative to the many other high moments on FMP recordings, this only matches up in ensemble work as Petrowsky and Bauer are not strong soloists of single statements, although they are competent enough, they sound a bit second line; best on the one extended piece, "Krisis eines Krokodiles" (16:30) and sustain a level performance on "Zweisam" (3:34), a duo performance. In total I found this record to be rather bland to the point of impatience.
Guitarist Hans Reichel has produced some music on FMP which I would consider still very experimental and developing. I would guess with proper amplification it would be productive to integrate his work into larger groupings, but it's conjecture as the two records I have heard of his, "Wichlinghauser Blues" (FMP 0150) and "Bonobo" (FMP 0280) are both solo efforts. The first was recorded in June of 1973 and utilizes a more traditional guitar sound (not music) on which Reichel produces sounds ranging from a traditional Delta style sound to synthesizer effects by modifying the guitar and using a variety of aids. The aids include 1-3 pickups, Schnapsglass (echo) and even an electric shaver on the guitar strings which produces a rather interesting effect, but still more an experimental than finished product. On "Bonobo", recorded in Oct. 1975, Reichel has altered the guitar even more radically by decapitating the bodies from two guitars and attaching the remaining necks to each other (forming a long stick) and then amplifying the new entire 'stick'. What results is a sound midway between a guitar and harpsichord. In general I am more impressed with Mr. Reichel's ideas between sound and instrument than I am with the actual music produced. Subsequently I found it the least appealing of the FMP efforts to reach my ears.
In general the FMP music that I have heard has had an overall assured confidence to it, and while there is no doubt that FMP would like an ever increasing audience, it is clear that the individual music performed here is performed primarily out of consideration for artistic, creative expression and not for primarily commercial considerations. As a result, there are some rough spots and stumbles, but there are also some magnificent moments and peaks rarely common to the average commercial release. For those readers who may have already discovered the pleasure, demands and inspirations of the FMP catalogue, I apologize for what might seem like wide-eyed naiveté. My purpose in writing this was to share some of my enthusiasm as it first came to me in the hope that it will perhaps peak your curiosity enough to take advantage of these records and listen for yourself. If you don't then this has been a wasted effort, the names will remain abstractly 'foreign', the music will go unheard, and I suggest your own personal musical experience will be the lesser without it.
from: Cadence Magazine # 3, March 1977