Adam Strider (1999)
FMP/Free Music Production
Free Music Production is a brilliant organization whose record labels stands at the (pinnacle of) labels releasing music, with a specific eye towards free and avant-garde sounds. When we examine jazz music of today, and then look back on the last twenty to thirty years of creation and advancement, I can think of few players that have had such an important impact as Peter Brötzmann, and the label he helped found, FMP, yet both remain so under-appreciated. (--) In 1969 the name FMP was taken, and, under the supervision of Jost Gebers, began to document the growing scene of European musical improvisers. FMP is based in Germany, a country that still deserves more appreciation for its influence on psychedelic, rock, and jazz oriented music. During the mid to late sixties, many European jazz musicians were, like their American counterparts, developing and exploring avant-garde and free jazz music styles. Thus, FMP was born to provide evidence of these events. Of particular importance, and gratification, a generalization can be made concerning European players. Though the influence of American music cannot be understated, in fact FMP and most European players have gone to great lengths to impress upon the public this very importance, they also took European folk music themes and avant-classical music and were not as deeply rooted in blues as their American contemporaries were, thus a different and distinct music has been achieved. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say that a similar style, free jazz, developed simultaneously via a different framework. So I will try to describe some of the albums on this label to give an overview of the label's achievement.
We begin with Peter Brötzmann. I have had the fortuitous privilege on six occasions to witness Peter Brötzmann play live. A show at New York City's Cooler in 1997 remains one of the best I've ever seen. Brötzmann's playing is pure, forceful and emotionally explosive. Your feet shake, and I have found myself experiencing intense moments of fright and elation. That is the power of Brötzmann's tone sound and creation. I haven't done a count, but I believe the most mentioned album of StriderNews articles has been Peter Brötzmann's Machine Gun (FMP CD 24). Many recordings can be different, some break new ground, but few can actually be regarded as lifetime works that began something innovative.
Machine Gun; it's obviously difficult to explain something that encapsulates a definition. This was an album that I remember reading about, and being told by many it was an essential document of free jazz. It took some time for me to track it down. I'm actually not a very good hunter-downer of music, and this was before my internet days, but when I got this release it filled a gap. Originally Brötzmann self-released this title and then shortly thereafter it became one of the early FMP releases, and remains one of the label's most essential recordings. This octet includes: Peter Brötzmann on tenor and baritone sax, Willem Breuker, tenor sax and bass clarinet, Evan Parker on tenor sax, Fred Van Hove on piano, Peter Kowald and Buschi Niebergall on bass and Han Bennink and Sven-Åke Johansson on drums. Surpassing the extremes of intensity is something this frontline leaps into, the album opens amid an onslaught of sharp deep tones from the reed section. The cacophonous eruption is more extreme, more radical, more cosmic more astral than any sound I've heard pulled from any electric instrument. The group continues to be unrelenting, coaxing and pushing to the ends of their ability. Members of the group step forward singly or in duos and are forced to create music that pushes their abilities as the group blasts unmercifully repeatedly creating a higher plane of expansion.
The beauty of a grand free jazz achievement is that the performers must completely open themselves. This group displays almost a cockiness with their sound, how could they produce such sounds of raw beauty? During portions of this disc the group presents a penchant for Dixieland that in someway is only believable when listening, retaining a free improvising sound. Mentioned in the liner notes are the brief indulgences into Samba, which is quite shocking on Van Hove's "Responsible".
Several times I have read jazz reviews, classical reviews, opera reviews, etc. where the writer will comment that the music is vigorous or powerful, that it would make much punk or heavy metal music appear lightweight. I think this a glaring truth in this instance the spellbinding bursts and then torrential onslaughts by these musicians are more hardcore than much of what generally passes for heavy stuff.
Now lets jump ahead and look at one of Brötzmann's current groups, Die Like A Dog. This is a prime example of FMP's dedication to international bands. Die Like A Dog's first release was subtitled Fragments of Music, Life and Death of Albert Ayler (FMP CD 64). The quartet was established as an homage to the memory and music of Albert Ayler and the cryptic name, Die Like A Dog, stems from the sad and strange circumstances of Ayler's death, (he was found in New York's East River). The group has released four albums, three appear on the FMP label. The quartet features Brötzmann on tenor, clarinet and tarogato, Toshinori Kondo on trumpet and electronics, William Parker on bass and Hamid Drake on drums. The music is explosive, of course, but the tight cohesive nature of the group is the most rewarding element. I am particularly fond of Kondo's use of electronics-they emit strange tones that seem perfectly adaptable to Brötzmann's reeds. What is truly stunning on these three albums, Fragments, and the pair Little Birds Have Fast Hearts No.1 & 2 (FMP CD 97 & FMP CD 101), is the lively interplay. Firstly, the listener will notice Kondo and Brötzmann's interaction, if you forget what a trumpet and saxophone sound like you could quite easily mistake who is responsible for particular phrases. Kondo's use of electronics produces many tones that screech and squall right along with Brötzmann's tenor flawlessly. Further when Kondo really lets loose (this happens quite quickly and often), he attains a new area for the trumpet-evoking swirling, spacey tones that I believe caused Brötzmann to comment "he's a Martian". Of course the pair do have moments of delightful singularity especially present on "Part 2" from Little Birds Have Fast Hearts No. 1. Brötzmann plays some very delicate clarinet and Kondo blows a breezy trumpet piece underneath that is additionally built up with some ethereal electronics. Brötzmann, of course, is his legendary self, and like us couch potatoes wonder at a marathon runner's ability to keep going, I find myself stunned by his stamina.
The rhythm section is also delightful. On many jazz-oriented recordings that I have heard one must strain to hear the bass as the horns and drums overpower it. This is often a problem I find in live settings too, happily, Die Like A Dog has William Parker. You'll never have to make a point to listen to his playing-it jumps right into your ear. William Parker is one of the most talented players of the bass, better yet one of the most talented musicians, and every time I hear him play live or on album I feel fortunate to be alive to witness his playing. Whether at a slow or fast tempo, with or without his bow, Parker's playing always remains audible and direct. Hamid Drake is no slouch either and his drumming, largely on a kit on these recordings, is meditative and delivered with an acute sensitivity to the music surrounding him. Drake seems to know exactly where and when to play, and, more importantly when not too. At numerous points across these three albums he allows the soloists to freely launch themselves out and then will provide a particularly notable cymbal roll or deep thundering bass drum response. It's impossible to pick a favorite of these, Fragments contains some "short quotations out of Ayler's music in different variations," as well as some takes on "Saint James Infirmary" that are not really perceptible to my ear. I do find myself having a particular fondness for "Part 1" on Little Birds Have Fast Hearts No. 1. The second volume contains the most maelstrom eruptions but really you need to hear this group play and once you obtain one recording I'm confident you'll want 'em all.
Brötzmann has also recorded four solo albums for FMP; two are currently in print. The 1994 album Nothing to Say-Dedicated to Oscar Wilde A Suite of Breathless Motion (FMP CD 73) is a humorous title for an album which in actuality is rather verbose, also apparent with the track titles. Perhaps solo is the best place to hear Brötzmann perform. It requires the involvement of the full range of his abilities to carry the listener across seventy-five minutes of music. Brötzmann utilizes a great number of his reeds on this album. Opening with the bass sax, the listener doubtfully will find him/herself drifting off to sleep. Brötzmann's strength and power are well suited to this daunting instrument which in many hands the lack of chops becomes an all too apparent problem. The closing melodious portion of the title track is the first example of a very introspective Brötzmann. The e-flat clarinet playing on "Let's Walk From Fire Unto Fire" is quite diverse, running from piercing notes that sound akin to the emergency broadcasting test pattern through to very calm soothing deep tones. This further demonstrates Brötzmann's ability for a disparate approach on the same instrument.
The shifting aura created by the different reeds make this quite the engaging solo recording. The bass instruments, clarinet and sax, provide the more accessible moments, while the e-flat clarinet the more challenging moments. Brötzmann's tarogato heard on "One That Stood Alone" and "The Sky Is Laced With Fitful Red" are two important instances at hearing what a tarogato actually sounds like. Though Brötzmann has used this instrument to great effect on many group recordings, its presentation here is of an obvious singular nature. Very much like a clarinet, it has a slightly higher pitched tone. Brötzmann's seems to enjoy long fluid expressions, running his fingers from one end to the other on the first track. The second is a bit more of an avant approach, even for Brötzmann, in the quietest moments on the album he produces some heavy breathing over the instrument, and only the shortest expression of actual notes are audible. Brötzmann's alto sax on "Fair Wind is Blowing From the Sea" is quite beautiful. Beginning with lower tones, this short introduction provides for some of the more beautiful moments of the album. Soon the intensity level heightens further, extrapolated on the following "A Lying Tale".
Only one piece is played on the tenor sax, "There is no Peace Under the Noon". This is perhaps the apex of the album. Brötzmann delves into slow moments and also offers short phrases with space in-between to allow for the offerings to sink in. Brötzmann has made it quite apparent he does not care for the spiritual, mystic beliefs. This is not only refreshing, (I do understand and appreciate musicians involvement with expression and interest in mystic endeavors), but it also offers a slightly more material frame of reference. I mentioned at the beginning that the solo setting would be the best place to hear Brötzmann's sound. It must also be understood as the most challenging and, if the prospected purchaser has never acquainted themselves with a solo saxophone album, well, just be prepared.
I assume that most readers of these pages have made at the very least a casual acquaintance with the work of Cecil Taylor. Along with Coleman and Coltrane he completes the Trinity of free jazz forefathers. Further, though the importance of Coleman cannot be overstated (frankly he doesn't really suffer from this), Taylor certainly has been given less praise than his counterparts. The European community and, specifically, FMP have done more than their fair share to remedy this. From a historical standpoint, FMP's documentation of European improvised music is practically peerless. Though FMP began as a label that would document Europeans, the label has pleasantly expanded documenting not only European performances of American improvisers, but musicians from around the globe. FMP's dedication to Cecil Taylor is, I believe, unequaled. The 11-CD box set, Cecil Taylor in Berlin, is one of free, improvised music (and further jazz): heroic documents of an individual player. The eleven discs collect mostly duo performances, a solo performance, a trio and two big band performances. No longer available as a box edition, the titles are now sold individually. While I am far from a scholar of Taylor's work I have found immense pleasure in his music. The double set of the Cecil Taylor European Orchestra Alms/Tiergarten (Spree) (FMP CD 8/9) is most stupendous. The group is comprised of seventeen members, some I am sure Taylor had not encountered previously. The two discs are comprised of two tracks, disc one "Involution/Evolution" and disc two "Weight-Breath-Sounding Trees" both right around the one-hour mark. For the band lineup alone, this disc is highly recommended. The fact that the music is of such exalted quality allows for further accolades.
Beginning with the sounds of I presume, Cecil entering the hall, be careful not to turn the volume up too much as it will increase. William Parker and Peter Kowald play some bass lines with Han Bennink laying down grooving drumbeats. It would be easy to go in depth and describe the proceedings from moment to moment. The music is focused, and something that I have noticed on other FMP big band dates, it appears the musicians are approaching the music more as listeners versus creators. It would seem they are more interested in what is being created around them or rather sympathetic to each other. This is actually quite satisfying-we are well aware of what a large ensemble can accomplish with booming, rolling, phrases, and the listener solely interested in this element will also find plenty to appreciate. However, it is also quite intriguing to hear the big band restrain itself. East and West Germany, Holland, England, Poland, Italy, France and America, this is not the band to be in back of at a customs counter. The seventeen member line-up is quite impressive and to mention a few of the musicians is imperative: trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, Louis Sclavis on soprano, clarinet and bass clarinet, Evan Parker on tenor and soprano, Hans Koch on bass clarinet, tenor and soprano sax. Gunter Hampel's vibes are particularly impressive, the cello playing of Tristan Honsinger is slightly lost but when heard quite expansive. Taylor's own playing is indicative of that manic, cautionary, loose, yet direct style of his, but perhaps the greater achievement is his ability as a leader and composer to get such charged performances from all the band members.
The second disc is the one I'd grab if a fire engulfed my house. The group's soloists and duets are more eruptive that on the first disc, yet the playing underneath the lead voices is more thoughtful, particularly the trumpets of Enrico Rava and Tomasz Stanko. There are also further moments of wild chanting. The liner notes mention the oddness of non-mystics, Brötzmann and Bennink engaging in this, a trait that has long been a trademark of Taylor's. This works splendidly on this recording, further showing the orchestra members sympathetic dedication to the leaders ideas. With so many important and essential documents of free music presented in this article, in addition to Machine Gun, I recommend this album as the most required.
Touchin' on Trane (FMP CD 48), Charles Gayle's 1991 album, is a brilliant document of this vital player. Joseph Chonto's liner notes fully explain the trials and tribulations that are all too much the norm in Black Classical Music. Charles Gayle's importance in the lineage of avant-garde jazz is quite important yet unfortunately neglected. Hailing from upstate New York he moved down to New York City and played his ass off on street corners. His forceful and intense style I'm sure create a glimmer in Brötzmann's eye and again the great Albert Ayler must be mentioned to make an attempt at expressing to the reader the sound of his saxophone. Gayle remains an overlooked player, a fact stemming specifically from a lack of interest by American recording companies, truly a shame. This problem could easily be corrected if more folks heard the trio on Touchin' On Trane.
The music is sublime, had me recalling a passage from a grade school history book. In the opening paragraph the author mentioned that one of the faults with history is that the instructor wishes it were possible for the human brain to process events simultaneously. Instead one event must be presented at a time and the reader unfortunately can only process each situation individually and then must relate the events to each other. This is something film constantly tries to tackle, presenting the same story from different view points, following one time line and then duplicating the same time line with other characters. The films of Jim Jarmusch are but one example of this. One of the pleasing elements of improvised music is that several voices can be presented at precisely the same moment and the listener can hear the ideas formulated by several musicians. In a small trio setting the combination of three minds on a single or three separate ideas can be understood quite well.
Rashied Ali has been selected for drumming duties. Coltrane's final drumming partner is compassionate as ever, allowing Gayle full reign in exploration of his saxophone. We have already bestowed tremendous praise upon William Parker's bass playing; the same adulation could be duplicated for this recording. The group certainly has moments of true Coltrane sounds, masterfully rendered on "Part D". Hopefully, FMP will continue to release material by Gayle. Perhaps in his later years he will not suffer the catastrophic neglect that he has endured for so long.
Though an article devoted solely to FMP's dedication to release works that fall under the poor descriptor "World Music" would be relevant, I am trying to give an overall picture of the label. Further, since FMP is so devoted to releasing quality music that destroys confines, such a brand is rather out of place. FMP have released six recordings featuring the multi-instrumental talents of Fodé Youla; two titles remain in print. Youla put together the group Africa Djolé to present a variety of African music. This album is an investigation into the music of Guinea, "a cultural melting pot" with songs from the five primary cultures: Baga and Sousou being the oldest, Mandingue, Sierra Leone, and Malinke. I can't honestly claim noticing drastic differences between the various cultures, though it is obvious a mixture of themes have been utilized.
Live: The Concert in Berlin '78 (FMP CD 1) is the album we will concern ourselves with here. Africa Djolé is a quartet including Kaloga Traoré, doundoumba, tam-tam, and voice, Fodé Camara, tam-tam, voice, Ségou Camara, tam-tam (soloist), voice and Fodé Youla, tam-tam, harmonica, sico, congoma, voice (soloist). In context it bears mentioning that it is 1978 and still several years before the mainstream music markets of Europe and America will embrace "World Music". The album has a real jazz flavor to it via the song structures, and the group's consistent ability to play rhythms that brighten the soloist's voice is divine. The early moments of the album hear Fodé Youla's harmonica that does not sound like something heard on most "World Music"; this quickly gives way to the drumming talents of Ségou Camara. The spectator will be astounded by the soloist's ability, especially Camara's use of the tam-tam (a West African drum composed of two drums of equal height one somewhat fatter than the other attached together by leather cowhide strips). Camara finds wonderfully rhythmic passages, I imagine much of this music must stem from happy festivity music, as it is very pleasant and very danceable. The record progresses with the group further exploring a wonderfully tight meshed rhythmic music that is hard to sit still and listen to, visions of carnivals and large joyful gatherings are omnipresent. The thunderous sounds are beautifully captured on a splendidly atmospheric recording that makes the observer truly feel themselves part of the music. Further accolades to Fodé Youla whose vocals present him as an awe-inspiring concert performer. His voice rises above the pulsing drums (which many times had me pounding my feet and shaking my head) making itself a resplendent brilliant entity of this fabulous recording. At other times Youla's vocals provide the primary instrumental device of the recording, plainly obvious on "Oumma Aularesso". Youla's vocals are ethereal on this short Sierra Leone traditional number. An additional treat is the enthused crowd response. In all seriousness, I imagine that a 1978 German free music oriented audience was as stoic and unresponsive as a present day New York City audience, thus hearing the whistles and fervent applause is most appealing. Further praise must be given to FMP for a proper sound balance. Too many live recordings reduce the crowd to little more than a convenience for editing. Here we actually hear an interaction which is quite fulfilling. Many jazz labels have expanded their horizons by releasing music that is far from the traditional Western form. An excellent example of dedication to world sounds is shown with this title of the FMP catalogue.
Perhaps a slightly superior example of FMP's devotion to international sounds and closer to the FMP aesthetic is the multicultural Peter Kowald Duos: Europa-America-Japan (FMP CD 21) album. Over the albums nineteen tracks, with as many collaborators, the variety of cultural and uplifting melodies we hear is voluminous. Of the important and integral names associated with FMP, Kowald is a central figure. Meeting up with Brötzmann in the days before FMP, the two discovered shared musical expressions and interests. Kowald, along with Buschi Niebergall, provided the bass for the above-mentioned masterpiece Machine Gun. Kowald has appeared on well over twenty FMP albums and is valued as one of the supreme bass players of today. Duos showcases his talent as a bass player wonderfully. In fact, taken on a one-to-one basis, many of the tracks could be construed as being lead by the other performer. This is a perfect example of the bass player knowing they are a humble albeit essential voice. This is abundantly apparent on the track with Diamanda Galas, though when all is said, done and written it is the droning mellow vibe of Kowald that is beyond reproach, rather than Diamanda's singular screeching vocals. Due to the album's short track duration and immense amount of players this comes highly recommended as an introductory listen to free improvising sounds. The only fault of the album is also its strength, presenting so many disparate voices-it is similar to a pu pu platter-depending on the individuals tastes, specific items are more appealing than others. Though for the truly adventurous listener this will prove to be a reward. The whole album can be dissected into separate parts and thus proves immensely rewarding for repeat listenings.
Several tracks are standouts; firstly the recordings with the Japanese players are good examples of the communicative possibilities of music. "Wind Arms" with shakuhachi player Seizan Matsuda, is beautifully haunting, and Kowald's bowed compliments provide for an exquisite four and a half minutes. "Birth of Signs" with saxophonist Akira Sakata, although brief, provided my first introduction to this player, and the closing outburst has me tracking down further recordings. Tadao Sawai was an unfamiliar name to me too, but I have long had a curiosity of the koto. "The Further Float" does perhaps lack direction, but quickly makes up for this by the quality musicianship of its two players. Kowald plucks subtle deep notes, and it is Sawai that pushes him to take things further out. Cellist Keiki Midorikawa is another highlight, as "Grüner Mori" has the two players engaging in a showdown; the tempo increases and I think I can even smell the smoke produced from the frantic bowing techniques. Junko Handa's track, like the Sawai, track creates a very Asian flavor and, at six minutes, is the album's longest track. Handa's voice is a low howling chant, and, along with the Biwa, a three stringed lute, supplies many intriguing textures for Kowald's bass. A full album by these two would be a sheer delight. I'm tempted to cite the piece with Masahiko Kono as part of the American portion. Kono has lived in New York for many years, this song was recorded in New York, and his involvement with New York musicians gives me reason to attribute him to that school. Kono plays long notes that complement Kowald. Bowed bass and trombone are two instruments made for a duet, and "Genmai" is one of this album's many highlights.
The European players are more familiar with Kowald's playing, and "Straight Angles" with the shamefully under-represented (in this article) Evan Parker is also a phenomenal outing. Kowald again employs the bow to admirable use and Parker provides attacking, quickly delivered notes that ride along magnificently. Okay, we've mentioned Brötzmann a lot, and you need to hear him-get this album, skip to track 11, crank the volume and run for cover. This must be a segment of a longer recording, since we jump right into that Brötzmann high-intensity level. He even removes the mouthpiece, squelching out some real furious moments; you won't be able to ignore this two and a half-minute blast. Derek Bailey is one of the significant members of the European improvising community; he gravitated to the FMP contingent at an early stage in his career. Bailey is one player that remains quite a challenging listen for your author. His complete rebuke of melodies and rhythms is easily attributable to this fact. Still, I have found immense pleasure stemming from this as well. The performance here is much more approachable and perhaps one of his more groovy recorded moments. Han Bennink another familiar face associated with FMP pops aboard and it becomes apparent those players who have a knowledge of each other and those who don't. Bennink falls into the first category, playing the sticks off each other and riding the cymbal. It is Kowald who steps into the spotlight for a large portion of this track.
Of the American performances, the one with Andrew Cyrille is quite surreal, and "Serious Fun" seems an appropriate title. Cyrille forgoes concentration on his drum for an indulgence in voicing. These are processed quite heavily with effects: the simple snare and again, bowing droned bass playing form a weighty bottom, the closing eruption I believe garnered the seriousness in the songs name. One of the more delightful tracks included Jeanne Lee on "In These Last Days". I have commented many times on my disdain for vocals. On this recording, however, I realize I haven't spent enough time seeking out vocal performances. In the sixties, Lee was lauded as creating the most significant vocal recordings since Sarah Vaughn's work of the forties, and though I can think of a few other goodies this is not a point worth disputing. Lee's voice is enticing, engaging, and sultry.
Hans Reichel is another artist whose recordings are largely found on FMP. Reichel is a very impressive musical inventor and creator. His distinct guitar playing has been heard on albums since 1973. Reichel is also known for his creation of instruments, multiple-necked guitars, guitars designed to be played on the other side of the bridge, and the weird and wonderful Daxophone. The Daxophone is a narrow piece of wood attached at one end to a table or stand, the other end is vibrated via a bow or other means, a piece of wood called the dax is applied to the middle of the wood strip, underneath the wood strip is a sound box within which contact microphones are placed to pick up the vibrating sounds. Kinda confusing, but the zany sounds pulled from these pieces of wood are really intriguing. On Shanghaied On Tor Road-The World's 1st Operetta Performed On Nothing But The Daxophone (FMP CD 46), the instrument obviously takes front stage. It has an odd electronic tone that in someway reminds me of a Theremin. I specifically think Theremin as I could hear many of these sounds being used in a fifties sci-fi film to create an eerie mood. Interest in Reichel's daxophone is far reaching; he even appeared on the Gravikords, Whirlies & Pyrophones [ellipsis arts] release. The music takes some getting used to, and I would recommend hearing his guitar playing first. Since most of you readers are pretty damn adventurous, give the above mentioned or the instruments debut on The Dawn of Dachsman (FMP CD 60) a try.
Where Reichel fits stylistically is of little concern or importance. The folk tradition would do well to call Reichel one of their own, yet the free avant-garde scene would never let him go, which may not exhibit Reichel's ease for acceptance. FMP CD 54 is the CD catalog number for Reichel's Death of the Rare Bird Ymir/Bonobo Beach, two solo albums from '79 and '81 respectively. Listening to these we hear Reichel's wonderful ear for rhythmic structures. The Death of. has Reichel on acoustic guitar and reminded me at times of Sandy Bull. The music on this CD is rarely jarring, from the bubbling percussive strumming technique to the quietest introspective moments, anyone with even a slight interest in solo guitar playing will find plenty to enjoy with this release.
Plenty more could be written; as I close this article I feel much has been left out. An artist like Alexander von Schlippenbach not being mentioned seems a travesty, I almost feel as if I should rewrite this entire article. I even feel I didn't express enough praise for Peter Brötzmann and Cecil Taylor; hopefully these are more my own feelings rather than what the uninitiated reader and even the FMP gurus will conclude.
from: StriderNews # 10, 1999, New York