Marcello Lorrai (1996)

Free Music Production (FMP)

In one of the texts that came with "For Example", a box set containing a balance of the first ten years of work of Free Music Production, Steve Lacy wrote: "The important thing about FMP, is the cumulative effect of 10 seasons presentations of new (progressive, sometimes quite radical) improvised music. This has not only created a very knowing public in Berlin, but has had important influences on the whole scene in Germany, as well as in other countries where there is interest in this kind of music (France, Italy, Holland, U.S.A. etc.). The fact that a venture such as this can succeed and continue to bear fruit, is a very positive factor in a world of disconcerting artists, and unscrupulous promoters. The integrity of FMP comes from the clear spirit, and hard work from the people who run it. The point has always been to keep the music (and the musicians!) alive, and to maintain a high interest in the choice of programs".

Many years have passed since then but FMP obstinately continues to publish records and organize concerts. Today it is even more fitting to see the truth in Lacy's evaluation of a 'cumulative effect' of the label's commitment. However, to see FMP's continuity as the simple result of a teutonic seriousness and obstinacy would be a limitation, and to see it as the consequence of the steadfast irreducibleness of the 'last Japanese' of free jazz would be a mistake. Behind FMP's endurance lies the fundamental idea of a 'long march' of improvised music, an idea which was born together with the label, the idea of free music not as a transient experience and not as something simply stylistic.

FMP's longevity also comes from another load-bearing axis of its philosophy: in FMP's history live music comes before recordings. In the genesis of FMP, as we will see, concert activity came before discographic activity. Moreover, live music has always been the engine of FMP's work and if, on the one hand, concerts and workshops have never been reduced to pretexts for making records, on the other hand, records have never been abstractly planned. For FMP, publishing records acquires meaning as part of a texture of occasions for presenting live music in a virtuous circle that always brings it back to its source: music in its making in front of a live audience. As observed by Bert Noglik (in 1969-1989: Twenty Years Free Music Production, booklet with catalogue published by the label) in the case of FMP, live activity appears "as a pre-requisite for documentation, and production as an echo of past and a stimulus for new encounters with living music". As a positive paradox, the priority the label gives to concert music is a priority given to the actual musician himself, to follow his own research and his direct relationship with the public in the long run. From this point of view the energy with which FMP has been making records for the past 25 years comes from an approach that does not make a separation between recordings and the intentions of those who make the music. The first origins of FMP date back to 1966 when, amongst some local German musicians, the need arises to form some kind of organization... When this becomes an actuality, even if only temporary, one of West Germany's most important free jazz personalities,, Peter Brötzmann, joins the project. His name, from then on, will be strongly linked with FMP. Brötzmann started playing clarinet in traditional jazz groups in the fifties; later, in Wuppertal (not far from Köln and Essen) he collaborated with bassist Peter Kowald, another of FMP's mainstays. Between 1965 and 1966, in addition to free jazz, Brötzmann also participates in the Fluxus Movement's performances and works with the composer Mauricio Kagel: at the time, communication amongst different musical backgrounds is quite fluid and Brötzmann even collaborates with the experimental rock band Tangerine Dream.

In '65, MPS issues the first album of German free jazz, Gunter Hampel's "Heartplants", while in '66 "Globe Unity", the newly born orchestra, appears on Berlin's "Jazztage" but as a whole, opportunities are scarce for free jazz musicians and treatment is unsatisfactory. In addition, Europe is starting to feel the winds of international dissent and as to be expected, musicians dedicated to the experimentation with free music are not so far removed from the libertarian and anticapitalist aspirations of the youth and student protest movements. The question is not just the one of the frequency of performance or better economic conditions. An urge was felt for different forms of music organization and direction in harmony with the forms of artistic expression.

In the fateful year of '68, a season of initiatives takes place in opposition to the official jazz manifestations. In Cologne, the answer to "Jazz am Rhein" is literally underground: concerts are held in a subterranean park house involving, amongst others, Brötzmann, Kowald, Manfred Schoof, Gerd Dudek, Alexander von Schlippenbach. The first "Total Music Meeting" which is born as a countermovement to the "Jazztage" is hosted in the basement of the alternative Berlin club Quasimodo: the event is organized by the musicians, and the atmosphere can be summarized by the sign, put up at the entrance, saying "jazz critics pay double price". The musicians' participation extends over the borders of West Germany and the range of the line-ups is representative of improvised music's transnational nature: in addition to the British Spontaneous Music Ensemble and to the Berlin ensemble Donata Höffer, all groups are mixed. Brötzmann is the only German in one particular group that is made up of Evan Parker, British, Fred Van Hove, Belgian and Han Bennink, Dutch. Two other British guys, John Stevens and John McLaughlin, respectively play in Schoof's quintet and Hampel's group. Globe Unity, the international body, participates in the event and black Americans Pharaoh Sanders and Sonny Sharrock, part of Jazztage's billboard, appears with their instruments. Also present is bassist Jost Gebers, one of the pioneers of German improvised music who started playing free jazz in Berlin bars at the beginning of the sixties. He will shortly begin put aside his instrument in order to dedicate his energy to the organization of Free Music Production. Listening to the music recorded in May 68 (then published as the album "Machine Gun", (FMP 0090) in Bremen by the bellicose octet led by Brötzmann, featuring Willem Breuker, Evan Parker and the bandleader on reeds, Fred Van Hove on piano, Peter Kowald and Buschi Niebergall on bass, Han Bennink and Sven-Åke Johansson on drums, help to understand the particular climate that characterizes these first German improvisation outings. Machine Gun (rarely has a title been more fitting) demonstrates free jazz of a furious and violent nature with a sonic charge in which can be discerned all the urgency of the forces of relief belonging to that special period and which maintains its cathartic force over the whole distance. It is a demonstration of Brötzmann's vitality and anger but also perfect evidence of two important things: the collaboration of radical European musicians was ripe (something on which FMP was to base its work) and what can be described as the assimilation of American 'free', has gained an aesthetic coherence. Conventions of pre-free jazz are almost absent from the horizon of Machine Gun, which has taken its lesson from the most extreme American avant-garde. In the work of Brötzmann and his colleagues, those same forms come out largely free of the accents and references to the pre-existent jazz tradition. The first "Total Music Meeting" starts an annual tradition which, always with the same title, and with the progressive transformation from 'anti' to complementary festival alongside the Berlin jazz festival, is still going. Another annual tradition, the "Workshop Freie Musik" starts up at Easter '69. The two events will make up most of the live branch of FMP activity.

Free Music Production is founded in September 1969 as a non-profit co-operative of musicians committed to putting into practice their desire for self-management regarding both concerts and recordings. A collective approach, which soon proves difficult to reconcile with individual intentions. In a comment on another FMP booklet with catalogue, probably dating from 1982, Achim Forst effectively describes the economic reality: "Often the obligation not to distribute profits unfortunately corresponds to the reality of not making any". Promoters are Gebers, Brötzmann, Kowald and Schlippenbach. The first two will prove to be the essential forces behind the undertaking, shouldering themselves with the weight of FMP's problems in the darker phases when collective involvement is at its low point.

The first album published by FMP, recorded in June of 69, is "European Echoes" (FMP 0010) of the Manfred Schoof Orchestra which features an array of the most fierce improvisers of the time: Schoof, Enrico Rava and Hugh Steinmetz on trumpets, Brötzmann, Parker and Dudek on saxophones, Rutherford on trombone, Derek Bailey on guitar, Van Hove, von Schlippenbach and Irène Schweizer on piano, Kowald, Niebergall and Arjen Gorter on basses, Bennink and Pierre Favre on drums. The ensemble constitutes a sort of coalition between the three most consistent groups of the free jazz 'German' scene: the trio of the Swiss Schweizer, Brötzmann's trio and Schoof's quintet. "We were all convinced - recalls Gebers - that it was just what we needed for our debut album because almost all the musicians that had been part of the co-operative were represented".

The following album is "Balls" (FMP 0020) recorded in August '70 by the trio Brötzmann - Van Hove - Bennink, the first LP of an ensemble destined to become one of the most popular in European free jazz. Shortly after, three albums in a row will document two performances held in August of the following year as part of the Berlin "Free Music Market", performances which mark the beginning of the collaboration of the trio with the trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff. In FMP's catalogue, where Brötzmann appears on eight of the first ten records of the label, six of which bear his name; two albums dating from before the birth of the label are included. Those had previously been sold at gigs as musicians' own productions: "For Adolphe Sax" (FMP 0080) from 67 and "Machine Gun" (FMP 0090). This also applies to the third album,  the label's tenth recording, "The Living Music" (FMP 0100) by Schlippenbach. The pianist, together with Evan Parker and drummer Paul Lovens in a trio that will come to be known as a 'classic', not only for FMP but in improvised European music in general, records "Pakistani Pomade" (FMP 0110) in November '72. Also in '72 other musicians approach the young label which, in return, records their music. Among these are saxophonist Rüdiger Carl and Peter Kowald, as leaders of a trio and a quintet, respectively. In '73, guitarist Hans Reichel puts out a solo album.

Once within the orbit of FMP, Carl and Reichel move to Wuppertal (Reichel from Hagen, Carl from Berlin, percussionist Detlef Schönenberg from Bochum) as a consequence of the intense work of Brötzmann and Kowald which has made the city a center for improvised music. In Wuppertal a group of musicians gathers around the bassist and, following the Berlin example, starts to organize workshops; Brötzmann maintains the relationship between the radical milieu of Wuppertal and the one in which Gebers is operating. On the other side Irène Schweizer introduces younger Swiss musicians, such as guitarist Stefan Wittwer who, in the second half of the decade, will have the opportunity to record under his own name for the German label.

With the release of Reichel's album it can be stated that within about three or four years, and in the space of some fifteen releases, all the musicians making up FMP's core have already entered the recording scene and will remain for the approximately 250 LP's and CD's subsequently published. All of them are present on CD's published in the nineties: Brötzmann, Kowald, von Schlippenbach, Schweizer, Carl, Reichel, no one is missing from the new CD catalogue started by FMP at the end of the preceding decade.

Browsing through the titles of the catalogue, Brötzmann is responsible for or involved in the production of dozens of recordings. Even excluding the Last Exit group, promoted by Bill Laswell which is not present anywhere, those records document Brötzmann's career down to the last detail. If we consider that, even if he is, in his own way, a cult-figure, Brötzmann is not an economic certainty, the publishing of so many of his records shows how non-commercial the label is.

It puts value on the individual record and not on "novelty" as an extrinsic need for artistic autonomy. Some items in the catalogue may be seen as kind of series of radical music: each episode deserves to be tried on its own but the deeper appreciation relies on the familiarity the public has with each character encountered along the way in each episode. It is that same familiarity that allows the deepest appreciation of the variations on a theme, represented by each episode.

The methodical reappearance of some "actors" should not be seen as the result of a closed circle spirit or to a monomanic tendency. It is the result of one of the principles that never ceased to inspire FMP's activity: the continuity in presenting those that Gebers describes as the musicians of the first generation. The constant attention to the first leaders of improvised music is also a defence and validation of the historic memory of free music. In this sense after the aforementioned Brötzmann and Schlippenbach albums, FMP reissues other productions published before the label's birth: "The Early Quintet" (FMP 0540) by Manfred Schoof of '66, "The Early Tapes" (FMP 0590) by Irène Schweizer's trio of '67 and "Santana" (FMP 0630) by Pierre Favre's trio with Schweizer and Kowald of '68.

In any case FMP's catalogue, in what it presents and its orientations, is not as closed and monolithic as it might appear to the untrained eye: not all of it is ultra 'free', not all of it is improvisation. It simply is a catalogue that has grown with subsequent graftings and co-optations, without betraying the musicians that left their mark and without dissipating energy.

During the years the centripetal force of FMP's original core does not fail in attracting musicians of a younger generation that manage to fit perfectly together with the central first wave up until becoming themselves major forces in the improvisation world as is the case of the saxophonist and clarinettist Wolfgang Fuchs.

The first broadening of horizons still is in the German area. At the beginning of the seventies many musicians linked to FMP, Brötzmann, Parker, Rutherford, Kowald, Schweizer, Lovens, Carl among others, obtain one day visas to East Germany: they use them to play on the other side of the wall with the improvisers of the German Democratic Republic in concerts that will give a decisive impulse to the free scene of the other Germany (sessions in the Melodie Bar in East Berlin will be particularly remembered).

From a discographic point of view, in the beginning, contacts with East Germany are limited to releases of material licensed by the national radio: the first is "Just For Fun" (FMP 0140) by saxophonist Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky's quartet with Conrad Bauer on trombone, recorded in Berlin in the April of '73, the fourteenth title in FMP's catalogue. Starting in '78 FMP will be able to have in the west live performances by such improvisers of the east like Petrowsky, Bauer, pianist Ulrich Gumpert and drummer Günter Sommer. A series of concerts of East German groups put together under the name of "Jazz Now" is then published as a box set, "Snapshot - Jazz Now / Jazz aus der DDR", consisting of two LP's with accompanying text and photos, in which are featured, amongst others, Ulrich Gumpert Workshop Band, the Gumpert-Sommer duo and Petrowsky's quartet.

Co-productions with East Germany also start in '79. Three albums are published jointly by FMP and East Germany's state label VEB Deutsche Schallplatten. One of them "Touch the Earth" (FMP 0730) is recorded by a trio that goes under the name Chicago / Wuppertal / Dresden made up by Leo Smith on trumpet, Kowald and Sommer and demonstrates an interest in a dialogue with the more radical exponents of black American improvisation which will lead to some interesting developments.

After having contributed with such determination to defining the original identity of European improvisation, without any inferiority complexes towards jazz models on the other side of the ocean, it is towards black American 'free' that FMP, nearing its twentieth anniversary, opens its arms and makes the most audacious admittance to its universe. Usually apt in surrounding himself with a few loyal and trusted aides, around the middle of the eighties Cecil Taylor in Europe shows signs of a greater willingness to confront musicians different from him in directions, experiences and generation.

In addition to renewing the duo with Max Roach and his impromptu collaborations with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Taylor tours with a line-up that mixtures New and Old world under the name "Music From Two Continents". FMP seizes the opportunity given by the unprecedented sociability of the pianist and, in the April of '86 in Berlin, dedicates to him the whole five evenings of the annual "Workshop Freie Musik": Taylor performs solo and more than once with his Unit and with the Euro-American Group which, for the European leg of the tour, was a completely renewed edition of "Music From Two Continents". It is the first act of an intense collaboration between Taylor and FMP that hasn't ceased since and the first of a long series of happenings with the art of Taylor that FMP will put out in the following years. Between June and July of '88 FMP makes things even bigger: twelve shows by the pianist in the space of a month, a seminar on piano, a workshop for young musicians and ten days of rehearsals for a new orchestra, the first mainly made by instrumentalists of the old continent, Rava and Tomasz Stanko on trumpets, Hannes Bauer, Christian Radovan and Wolter Wierbos on trombones, Martin Mayes on horn, Brötzmann, Parker, Hans Koch, Peter van Bergen and Louis Sclavis on reeds, Gunter Hampel on vibraphone, Tristan Honsinger on cello, Kowald and William Parker on bass, Bennink on drums. The pivots of this grandiose project are a European Big Band and five duets with leading drummers of the improvisation scene linked with FMP, Sommer, Lovens, Bennink, Tony Oxley and Louis Moholo (the latter having often been present on FMP records, sometimes with bassist Harry Miller, another figure from the south South African diaspora). As a result FMP publishes a limited box-set "Cecil Taylor In Berlin '88" with ten CD's (one of them double) with a rich booklet full of comments and iconographic material. The only CD which is not also sold separately offers a sample from the participants in the workshop, the other nine document almost entirely the concerts of this review, that is, the performances by the European Big Band, the duets with the drummers, one duo with guitarist Derek Bailey and a solo. There also is a trio with Evan Parker and cellist Tristan Honsinger taken from a series of less formal concerts. Not satisfied with this, an unprecedented homage for a living jazz musician, FMP promptly circulates another double CD containing a solo by Taylor and a duo with Sommer recorded in East Berlin within the same period. The release is the first of a series that now includes various other episodes. It is worth underlining that the encounter, sponsored by FMP, between Taylor and Oxley has become a solid collaboration. The English drummer has appeared regularly at the pianist's side especially in trio with William Parker (Taylor's usual bassist) who often appears together with Brötzmann.

At the end of the eighties "Cecil Taylor In Berlin '88" is 1990's record of the year for Down Beat's international critics referendum poll and spurs on the launch of the label's CD catalogue after a period of difficulties which had put the label's existence in danger. The launch allows FMP, without any change in its commitment, to gain attention outside the unfortunate narrow boundaries in the interest for improvised music.

The contact between Taylor and FMP, a historical embrace of two worlds of improvisation, each with a specific cultural background but also with much in common, representing a mutual recognition of affinities on the level of both coherence and ethics.

The CD catalogue - which mainly offers titles recorded in the second half of the eighties but also cultivates the sense of history by reissuing old masters like "Machine Gun" (FMP CD 24) - brings new colours to FMP's palette also with a few more ecumenical inclinations. The very first number of the new catalogue for example is a CD by Africa Djolé, a group of percussionists from western Africa, which contains two albums originally released by the subsidiary label SAJ. With some sixty releases SAJ (an acronym that comes from the initials of Sven-Åke Johansson) was destined (in addition to 'free' records co-produced with other musicians' organizations) to host albums, such as the one dedicated to the music of Jelly Roll Morton by Schlippenbach together with the Rome RAI orchestra, that were eccentric when compared to the lineage of the main label. Now the two aesthetics are joined. As a result "Mujician III" (FMP CD 12), the third solo escapade of English pianist Keith Tippet, appears in FMP's new catalogue while the previous two had been published on SAJ.

In the meantime the presence of black American musicians increases. Horn player Butch Morris' personality is especially fitting to FMP's aesthetic, he can be found on two albums recorded by two ensembles of peculiar range: "X-Communication" (FMP CD 33) with trombonist J.A Deane, vocalist Shelley Hirsch, violinist Jason Hwang, cellist Martin Schütz, Koch, Reichel and Lovens and a quartet with Kowald, Werner Lüdi on sax and with the experimental vocalist (who FMP pushes with a record featuring only her) Sainkho Namtchylak of central Asian origins. In the catalogue there's also space for saxophonist Charles Gayle, unrecognized star of historical free jazz, drummer Sunny Murray in duo with Schlippenbach, bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Rashied Ali in trio with Brötzmann and for the quintet of trumpet player Raphée Malik (former cohort of Taylor) in a record of advanced though quite orthodox jazz.

At least two other American presences are worth taking note of: Steve Lacy, who already appeared in FMP's records at the middle of the 70's as a member of Globe Unity now appears in the new catalogue in a soprano-sax duo with Evan Parker and Lol Coxhill while pianist Marilyn Crispell appears in a duo with Irène Schweizer.

Finally the weight of French jazz in FMP's productions is worth noticing: in addition to saxophone and clarinet player Louis Sclavis, who had previously collaborated with the label, in the compact disc catalogue, there are appearances of clarinet player Jacques Di Donato, saxophonist Michel Doneda, guitarist Jean-Marc Montera and percussionist Lê Quan Ninh. This growing faith in French jazz together with a never-ending and meticulous research for young talent is the sign of a passion that doesn't lean towards nostalgia for the golden years of radical European music and keeps looking forward while patiently working for the growth of improvisation's culture.

Total Music and Freie Musik - the label on stage

The twenty five years turning point has been reached in 1992 by "Total Music Meeting" immediately followed in 1993 by "Workshop Freie Musik". It is a record for duration and regularity that has been taken even further in the later versions. In addition to the concerts presented over the course of the two events, the one taking place in the spring and the other in the fall, there are also the various concerts organized by Free Music Production in between.

Even more important than the quantity is the quality of the events. First of all the formula: the programme usually lasts for four or five days, with shows not only at night, which allow the willing members of the audience to enter, for good, into the climate of improvised music while on the other hand the musicians can be heard more than once and in various contexts. This approach is often underlined by the confrontation of different musicians in a similar instrumental situation (a series of guitar or vocal solos for example) usually ending up with a collective performance from musicians playing the same instruments.

The willingness to explore the possibilities offered by a single instrument, both solo and in a group, might have reached its peak in the unforgettable '86 edition of "Total Music Meeting" which revolved entirely around the trombone featuring some fifteen of the most distinguished specialists on the instrument: from Albert Mangelsdorff to Günter Christmann, from Giancarlo Schiaffini to Conrad Bauer, from Vinko Globokar to George Lewis. Another criterion often used is the one that centres each night around a leading figure in various combinations with the other musicians.

FMP has taken advantage of this kind of opportunity to broaden the horizon of its musical offerings, presenting musicians not involved in the usual field of improvised music, such as those musicians from non-western cultures, Asians in particular (as is the case of Kazue Sawai, koto player, and Seizan Matsuda, shakuhachi player both Japanese or Jin Hi Kim, a komungo player from Korea), or those from borderline areas between radical music, experimental rock and noise music (Japanese guitarist Kazuhisa Uchihashi). Some of the encounters between these musicians and some of the most adventurous FMP artists have been recorded (for example Matsuda with Peter Kowald and Uchihashi with Hans Reichel).

The last "Total Music Meeting" in the fall of '95 was dedicated to the "conduction" method developed by Butch Morris used it with a group of young and very young musicians, many of which had classical backgrounds and no experience of any kind in improvisation. Last November FMP has crossed the ocean (for the second time) for "A salute to FMP" a four day event dedicated to the label held in Chicago featuring a series of concerts and encounters which saw the participation among others of Peter Brötzmann, Irène Schweizer, Evan Parker, Hans Reichel and Rüdiger Carl.

During the quarter of century of FMP's history, Jost Gebers has always continued to make a living from a regular job that has nothing to do with jazz and music so that he never had to make compromises. He developed a work discipline based on realism. This attitude is reflected in the brevity of his replies. He does not indulge in anecdotes and refuses to mention all the personal money spent on the project over quite some years while preferring to underline the linearity and coherence of the label's experience.

from: Magazine MUSICA JAZZ # 3/1996

Edited by Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

The copyrights remain with the aforesaid sources and/or with the authors.