Bob Rusch (1977)
FMP Music Production
Perhaps one of the most formidable challenges to my ears during the past year has come from listening and dealing with certain European creative music. In many ways I have always sensed a continuum in various American born jazz efforts. Even when Ornette burst upon the scene it was apparent to me that there was a strong and quite perceptible link between his off-toned free innovations and the music of King Oliver. When I first encountered the material from FMP I was aghast that so much innovative music existed and that I had been so unaware of it. While I do see an obvious jazz link to the music and never doubted it as jazz in my own mind the music seemed to catch me unprepared like nothing else. Perhaps it comes from a foreign, almost virgin, non-evolutionary perspective. My initial encounter with FMP is rather candidly explored in a length article in the March 1977 Cadence. Rather than review that, I would refer you to it as background. I might add though that the music still catches me off guard and holds for the listener, a surprise ball effect. It is as true for the older releases as for their spring ’77 releases for which I will share my reactions with you as follows.
“LIVE PERFORMANCES/TRISTAN HONSINGER & MAARTEN VAN REGTEREN ALTENA” (SAJ-10) is a record of solo string music. Side 1 (“Garlic and the Fever”/”She”/”On Clapping”) is devoted to Honsinger’s cello playing at the “Total Music Meeting” in Berlin on 11/7/76 (23:07). Side 2 (“The Mute I”/”Circles”/Allegretto Balinoso”/The Mute II” is Altena at “Flöz” in Berlin Oct. 29 and 31, 1976 (25:48).
Honsinger combines a lively technique accompanied by his vocals and coughing and a bit of slapstick. There are times here when one is not sure if one is listening to a maestro or a clown as Honsinger alternates considerable technique with simian sounds. As music, the improvisation is instant, but the short clusters and lines do not often lead to any logical development. In this aspect Mr. Altena is different, as he is more apt to delay and work around an idea or cluster of improvisations. But if Honsinger is perhaps too momentary and flighty, M.V.R.A. tends to dwell too long on a single motif, areas which too often lead to dead ends. There are moments, particularly when M.V.R.A. moves to the higher octaves of the bass during a circular improvisation, but again there seems little to develop. What seems to be lacking with the work of both artists here is a solo dialogue. Sound for the most part without direction or meaningful movement for me. On “Balinoso” M.V.R.A. gets into some metronomic walking, but even here the walk leads nowhere.
“AUSTIN STREAM” (SAJ-09) is a recording of pianist Michael Smith’s quartet recorded at Berlin’s “Total Music Meeting” in Nov. 1976. For the six pieces (“Geomusic 3, 700”/”In Search of a Mind”/”A Ballad for K”/Geomusic 3, 680 + 616”/Austin Stream” 40:40), Mr. Smith’s quartet is made up of Claude Bernard (as), Kent Carter (b) and Lawrence Cook (dr). “Geomusic 3, 680” is a short piece opening the record on a statement which is more perfunctory than effective. More effective is Smith’s mind search, a slow ballad with some sensitive floating, improvised development between Smith and Bernard. Throughout side one Cook maintains a rather awkward role as traditional time-keeper fitting in better on the up-tempo, but still out of place in the more free setting. Carter’s bass is very strong with some very effective holding of bended notes between sax rests on “Ballad for K”. On this piece Smith’s Taylorish efforts are strong but not inspiring. “Geomusic 700” opens side 2 with everyone except Carter in high registers. Cook takes on a more free aspect, and sounds like he has made the head on the snare extremely tight. Unfortunately the exchanges here fail to come together, and as the music wanders, so does my mind. Things finally come together on “Geomusic 616”, a piece dedicated to Monk. Here the music attains its highest level of free passion and energy, and there is especially fine work from Bernard as he searches through a solo in close harmony and collectiveness with the rhythm.
In Heiner Goebbel’s and Alfred Harth’s “HOMMAGE/VIER FÄUSTE FÜR HANNS EISLER” (SAJ-08) we have music that is typical of FMP’s most unique offering. Goebbels plays piano and accordion, Harth plays saxes and clarinets, and this is theatre music. Music which is part free association and part social repository theatre. Recorded live at “Flöz” in Berlin on 10/3/76, the ten tracks (42:16) appear to be in part or all related, my German is nil, so tunes, titles, lyrics, phrases, shouts, are all lost on me. The most enjoyable parts of this recording, for me, are those between reeds and piano. Accordion is not my favourite instrument in any music, and yet I have occasioned more than one collector of accordion jazz. Here the use of accordion just makes Harth’s work sound more bizarre. Harth seems to take his lead from FMP giant Peter Brötzmann, while Goebbels takes his lead from the silent melodrama movies. Together they combine free satiric barrages with German marshall lyricism.
“BERLIN CONCERT” (SAJ-07) presents the Noah Howard quintet live at the “Quartier Latin”, Jan 30 & 31, 1975. Joining Howard’s alto sax was Takashi Kako (p), Kent Carter (b), Oliver Johnson (dr) and Lamont Hampton (perc). The music here is more familiar to North American ears, and opens with “Lotus Flower” (6:26) a muscular, Coltrane-type invocation, and mainly an exploration between Kako and Howard, it serves as an introduction for “New York Subway” (4:06), a maniacally, energetic howling-squeaking, 1-2-3-4 jerking affair, rather descriptive of its title. Side 1 ends with “Mardi Gras” (7:35), a slightly modal, Latin, weaving, mid-tempo line is set up by the rhythm with Kako building over it in preparation for Howard’s solo. Howard’s solo here is similar in its even and level approach to most of his work on Side 2; but on “Mardi Gras” it’s over before really developing. Side 2 is devoted to Trane’s “Olé” (8:37) and the fourth Howard original of the record “Marie Laveau” (11:15). “Olé” is developed along similar Coltrane lines, with Carter’s opening taking a Jimmy Garrison lead. The rhythm sets up a rolling, spiralling rhythm with Howard’s solo managing to reach its greatest depth. “Marie Laveau” presents perhaps the greatest success at group improvisation. Here the group sounds more integrated in freeness, and while there is no single inspiring effort, the group improvisation is most satisfying and rewarding.
“S’GSCHÄNK” (FMP 0300) is a record of solo piano music by Urs Voerkel. The seven tracks here (43:21) are all Voerkel originals except “I Remember Clifford” which, of course, is by Benny Golson, and is coupled here with Voerkel’s “Ölstück” in a 13-minute medley. Voerkel’s playing brings to mind Mal Waldron in his left hand repetitions, although Mr. Voerkel is less moody and in general, deals in lighter tonalities, sometimes similar to Keith Jarrett or Chick Corea’s acoustic work. On “I Remember Clifford”, one can hear a hesitant, almost Monkish-style, more readily noticeable on this piece due to the familiarity of the composition for the listener. This is a record that grows in depth, light, almost easy listening, but not empty, it has a rather haunting quality to it that lingers.
Another album of solo piano music is Irène Schweizer’s “WILDE SENORITAS” (FMP 0330). Ms. Schweizer’s playing on the title track is similar to Voerkel’s, perhaps a bit darker, and with a heavier and more classical texture. Her tunes are more extended, although she too, is fond of repeating rhythm figures. Each side of the record is devoted to one extended original “Wilde Senoritas” (15:46) and “Saitengebilde” (18:15), both recorded at the Berlin “Total Music Meeting” on 11/4/76. On parts of the latter track Ms. Schweizer alters the piano, creating a percussive sound with the keys, similar to woodblocks or sticks, on almost closed high hat cymbals. Departing from this she moves into impulsive, impressionistic playing of a rather pastoral nature. Her sense of tension is excellent, brought about shifting emphasis and simultaneous playing of counter, yet interrelated lines. The listener has the effect in listening to one, following the other of experiencing the action on one screen, the background or backdrop on another screen with a constant change of emphasis or focus. There is a subtle dexterity and related independence in Ms. Schweizer’s hands. Near the end of the piece she breaks into a veld-like blues (dedicated to Dudu Pukwana), which is quite pretty and refreshing. A very complete performance.
Music of a more radical nature comes from “(ALEX) SCHLIPPENBACH & (SVEN-ÅKE) JOHANSSON - LIVE AT THE QUARTIER LATIN” (FMP 0310). Recorded 4/15/76, this features three of pianist Schlippenbach’s originals, one original by drummer Johansson and two by Monk (“Evidence” and “Round Midnight”). Again it is interesting to see how more familiar music is handled for insights into style. “Evidence” is taken pretty straight by Schlippenbach, even to the point of tossing in some Monkish stride. “Midnight” is more exaggerated and amplified in its hesitancy. On this piece Schlippenbach has altered the piano by placing something (a wire?) across the strings. With Monk it sounds more gimmicky that additive, and is put to better effect on Schlippenbach’s own compositions. Johansson plays very loose, almost sloppy, and while he is rather lyrical, there are times when I think he stops listening to the piano and only follows the music in his own head. Possibly as a result, the best moments are what appear to be battles between piano and drums, head-on collisions of personality. Schlippenbach is a very dynamic pianist, but from what I’ve heard he works best in a larger setting where his playing programs better for and with orchestra.
Urs Voerkel turns up again on “VOERKEL - (PETER) FREY - (PAUL) LOVENS” (FMP 0340). Where on FMP 0300 Voerkel’s music was rather structured, here it is almost completely unstructured and extreme in its free direction. This is a record of very decentralized music, and for the most part without a unifying core between the trio. This is particularly disappointing because Paul Lovens is an extremely gifted and sensitive percussionist. The seven originals (41:34) here were recorded in May 1976, and I doubt from listening that this is a trio that has worked together as a trio for a period of any length. Part of the problem seems to be the complete independence between Voerkel’s piano and Frey’s bass (sometimes sounding like a sax). They go their independent ways, a battle for dominance of sorts, and Lovens is left in the middle, unable to unify, he plays freely straight down the middle. There are moments of success when either Frey of Voerkel back off and allow the other to, in effect, lead, or will at least take into account the other’s freedom into their own, but getting to these moments can be a schizophrenic experience. Side 2, perhaps recorded last, is 100% more coordinated, but still with many areas of unrelenting madness.
Exactly the type of interplay that is missing, for the most part, from “VOERKEL-FREY-LOVENS” is found on “THRUMBLIN” (FMP 0350) also recorded in May 1976. This record presents the duo of Radu Malfatti (tbn) and Stephan Wittwer (g) on four shared original compositions (44:10). The music here is very abstract, instantly composed; I believe, and yet very closely coordinated in lead and interplay between Malfatti and Wittwer. If perhaps egos were the problem in FMP 0340, there is no such problem here, as the close development of the music between the performers’ allows for both unity and an exchange and exploration of lead “ideas”. Neither instruments here have a traditional mainstream sound, but I don’t think they are altered either. The trombone does have what is becoming familiar to my ears as a traditional free avant-garde sound, and Malfatti does some remarkable, spontaneous, split octave work (if my ears perceive correctly, and it’s not over-dubbing, which I don’t think it is) on “T” (4:20) and high register reedy sounds on “Abendländische Kulturangst” (18:15). Wittwer’s guitar is also very unorthodox, but the only altering of it, I think, is brought on by various goosings of electrical current. There are many times, in particular on this record, when liner notes would be helpful, especially if they were in English.
One could almost get off on just the unity and orchestral effect that this duo achieves, it is quite powerful.
“BLOW” (FMP 0370) is the name of the album featuring the trio of Herbert Joos (tpt, flg), Wolfgang Czelusta (tbn) and Bernd Konrad (ss, bs, cl), recorded live Oct. 30, 1976. The three utilize a close harmony, an almost chorale effect, (similar to the voicing on Monk’s version of “Abide With Me”). Throughout the recording they mix the more traditional line with open and free sections. Some of this music reminds me of George Russell’s writing, but without the fullness of voicing. There is not much to say about the individual improvisations, most of it sounding rather bland and limited, Konrad shows some dexterity on bass clarinet, but there is little apparent inspiration to my ears and the evenness of register and tempo on the ten originals (49:50) made listening a rather tedious and impatient affair.
The Georg Gräwe quintet’s free music sounds heavily inspired by the American free movement of the mid-sixties, very harsh and assertive, with its raw energy. The group also recorded live at the “Quartier Latin” (4/19/76) for their record called “NEW MOVEMENTS” (FMP 0320). The group consists of Gräwe (p), Horst Grabosch (tpt), Harald Dau (ss, ts), Hans Schneider (b) and Achim Krämer (dr). Side 1 is taken up by the title track (23:04), while side 2 is divided between two Dau compositions, “Green Screen” and “V626” (26:49). There is much fine and competant blowing, best from Grabosch’s flat, sliding and staccato trumpet. The music ebbs and peaks with a certain familiarity, and while everything seems to be in order, there is nothing to highlight or distinguish this, either in solo or ensemble, from countless other free blowing groups. There is also a certain economy of ideas missing at times that might have made intense listening easier over the extended lengths. There is, however, rhythmic diversity and a variety of levels, but I found listening cumbersome.
I listened to, and am writing last about reedman Peter Brötzmann because Brötzmann is such an imposing musician. Brötzmann is a kind of father figure in the European avant-garde and while my instinct was to immediately play this master craftsman’s record, I felt it would possibly cast a shadow of anticlimax among the more apprentice efforts. So I saved it for dessert, which no meal of FMP music should be complete without. The album is called “SOLO” (FMP 0360), and features Brötzmann on 12 originals (48:42), ranging in length from 22 seconds to just under ten minutes and possessing such evocative titles as “Two Birds in a Feather”, “Blue Balls”, “Scrambag”, “Humpty Dumpty”, “Jack-in-the-Box”, “Twee(D)dldum”, Eine kleine Marschmusik” and two “Pieces for Two Clarinets” on which he simultaneously blows two clarinets with the expressiveness and power only matched by Rahsaan live over a decade ago.
Brötzmann is completely over-powering both in the mastery of his instruments and his overwhelming inventiveness. Here he runs the range of music from Rollins to Lacy to Bird, and touches on music from the blues to the comedia del arte, in an absolute festival of invention. Stimulating music, but not for the timid or conservative listener, is found here as Brötzmann goes on a rampage with the clarinet(s), alto tenor and bass saxophones (and piano on “Marschmusik”) and sustains both energy and interest for every second. One can only speculate on what a duo between Mr. Brötzmann and Eric Dolphy might have produced. This is a giant of a musician and the fact that he has not gotten the press and recognition from the North American press and critics is, frankly, a joke, a bad one, but still a joke, that says more about the latter than about Brötzmann’s abilities. This record and FMP 0160 – The Globe Unity Orchestra (Feb. ’77, p. 10) are two of the finest recordings I’ve heard in 1977.
from: Cadence Magazine # 12, December 1977