Felix Klopotek (2009)
Bye! Forty years of FMP
»Cheers! What a shame that you had another date!
Is it really all that late?
Well, farewell then, say hello to all our friends.
Cheers! Nice that you were here today,
that you took the time to stay.
Was it worth it? Have a safe trip home!«
Pop song from the GDR,
Lyrics: Dieter Lietz, Music: Walter Kubiczek.
Recited by Peter Brötzmann,
accompanied by Fred Van Hove and Han Bennink,
on LP FMP 0230
Forty years of FMP – a reason to celebrate. This has been the standard pronouncement.
Forty years of FMP, this is, however, also a reason to quit.
Since its foundation, Free Music Production has been continuously linked to one person: Jost Gebers. Don't get me wrong, this is not a lead-up to the cult of genius: Gebers has always been dependent on an artistic, friendly, politico-cultural as well as commercial environment, which livened up the complex structures of this label and even generated them, to start with. To Gebers, this environment provided him with the security to expose himself to that permanent financial disaster better known as: both festival and LP productions of Free Music. If Gebers had known in 1968/69, with the founding of FMP in the air, of what to expect, had he known that there could never be a successor who could continue the label in the spirit of those founding years – he probably wouldn't have bothered.
There were enough serious crises, in the supposedly golden seventies and eighties the label was on the brink of collapse. Without the reassurance from the outside, Gebers would have thrown in the towel: at times it was Peter Brötzmann who intervened and who was committed to the label more than any other musician, he convinced Gebers with a veritable flood of plans for the future to carry on with the label. At times it was a wise cultural politician such as Nele Hertling, who continuously opened up the space for free musical experience for Gebers in Berlin.
Gebers held all the strands together. And the more lively, complex, fuzzy, international the environment became, the more strands he had to hold. Who would be able to sort all this out? Who was going to keep his nerve and the overview? Already back in the nineties, Gebers had signalled that he wanted to retire. At this point in time it was clear that Berlin politics would provide less and less financial means for something as exotic and intractable as Free Jazz. But it was also clear at that point that it less and less depended on FMP, which was good news! This is because for approximately 15 years there has been a new generation of musicians, producers, labels and also promoters who vehemently stand up for Free Music. FMP itself has never become a commercially successful business model (which would also have been impossible, since the label owes itself to a unique biographical-historical constellation), but the idea which marked its beginning - to produce Free Music, unrestricted, continuously and disassociated from the aberrations of the Zeitgeist - has spread out. For a long time now, Gebers is no more the lone warrior. If he quits now there is no longer the danger that the disappearance of FMP's assets will result in the disappearance of the musicians’ work.
So, Gebers who, over the last years, celebrated an unintended strange, if you like: forced comeback (we’ll come to this later), can retire. What remains is not a collection of anecdotes, also not an economic balance sheet, not a collection of, in the meantime, highly rated recordings but quite simply: a piece of music history.
How works develop
The catalogue of recordings speaks for itself because the names speak for themselves. Peter Brötzmann, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Peter Kowald, Hans Reichel, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky, Rüdiger Carl, Steve Lacy, Sven-Åke Johansson - to name just a few. The work of these musicians, at least the core of their work, is documented on recordings of Free Music Production - over years, decades. Any question as to the importance of FMP therefore takes care of itself.
Is that right? For the fun of it, one may question this abundance of relevance, to trim it down to size. FMP was founded in September 1969. At this point in time the Storm and Stress phase of Free Jazz was over. This kind of music - in all its manifold variations - had had its first hype, first in America (1964), then in Europe (1966-1968). By 1969 there are smaller and bigger ‚islands’ of Free Music all over Europe, musicians have initiated their first independent festivals, are founding their own record companies, some of them can also record for bigger labels. The foundation of FMP marks by no means the big bang of European Free Jazz, almost all of the musicians of the first generation have already put out their first productions, by 1969, the famous Manfred-Schoof-Quintet is already history. Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra had already passed its first zenith; Peter Brötzmann has gained immortality through his self-produced LPs »For Adolphe Sax« (1967) and »Machine Gun« (1968). And also the reputed identity of FMP and the German Free Jazz Scene turns out to be a retrospective projection: away from FMP there are small circles of Free Music such as in Frankfurt 1969/70 (around Alfred Harth), Wiesbaden (around Michael Sell and Dieter Scherf) and Karlsruhe (around Herbert Joos), existing independently of the Köln-Wuppertal-Berlin axis, the well-oiled FMP groove.
Thus the importance of FMP does not lie in the fact that it represents a departure - vice versa: the label results from a big bang, stands for the endeavour to condense this constantly precarious, fundamentally non-commercial music, to bring it under institutional control. And it works - FMP succeeds like no other label which has dedicated itself to Free Music. By means of persistence, almost Prussian tenacity, a back catalogue has arisen providing a body of work for those musicians who, since the middle of the sixties have so shockingly blown free the European Jazz stages of epigonism and uptight ingratiation to New Music. Essentially, FMP’s continuity is the musicians’ continuity. Free Jazz - or Free Music or Improvised Music or … let’s at this point let the matter rest regarding the correct attribution - thanks to FMP, Free Jazz is no chapter, no hype, no occupational accident of Jazz history. It is, in Alexander von Schlippenbach’s words, »the living music«, no coagulated music in contrast to the fate of all the other varieties of Jazz. The power of self renewal lies in Free Improvisation itself, in what determines the core of Free Jazz. The music world owes its thanks to FMP for the fact that these forces have been continuously brought to light.
Strong words. Aren’t there, as a matter of fact, far more mediocre Free Jazz productions than good ones (just like in any other genre?) Correct. Isn’t there, despite the cult about the eternal power of renewal, Improvisation, an awful lot of imitation? Right up to the point of stagnation, in the case of musicians who were the founding fathers of FMP forty years ago? This is also correct.
And anyway: FMP is a label in Berlin, which up to the beginning of the eighties had its unmistakable main focal point in the area of recordings with German musicians. How could one make an historical claim to exclusivity from this situation? There were and still are other vital labels - ICP in Holland, Incus and Ogun in England, and in Germany, as well: Paul Lovens’ Po Torch, Gunter Hampel's Birth!
It is about the difference, the general picture: most of the smaller Free-Music labels are not founded on a consensus but on an act of self-assertion. Improvisor X sees himself insufficiently represented by other labels, in particular those labels which are looking for profit, and therefore founds his own label which is finally supposed to represent his music appropriately and the music of his working environment. The founding manifesto of FMP, the session from June 1969, which was called »European Echoes« and wondrously attributed to Manfred Schoof (this is remarkable because it is de facto a collective improvisation with solo features of all the musicians involved), was signed by 16 musicians: Enrico Rava; Manfred Schoof; Hugh Steinmetz; Peter Brötzmann; Gerd Dudek; Evan Parker; Paul Rutherford; Derek Bailey; Fred Van Hove; Alex Schlippenbach; Irène Schweizer; Arjen Gorter; Peter Kowald; Buschi Niebergall; Han Bennink; Pierre Favre. At least seven of them, all of them extremely different in disposition and musical spirit, are part of the 'hard core' of FMP over the following decades. Right from the beginning the label is not committed to one particular scene or »family«, but to a European network (in which American fellow musicians participate only peripherally, later more centrally). This is why FMP does not only represent the works of Brötzmann or Kowald or Reichel, but also documents relevant phases of work of at least three dozen other colleagues. From Irène Schweizer to Cecil Taylor, from Radu Malfatti to Charles Gayle, from Martin Theurer to Evan Parker, from Michel Pilz to Manfred Schulze.
How music develops
Strictly speaking, the (Anti)-Festivals 1) and the concert series of FMP have been more important than the LP productions. They have, at least, preceded them. Nearly all of the FMP productions have been recordings in the context of these festivals and concerts. They are either live concert recordings or recording sessions which were arranged of the live music confrontation only because it seemed to make sense to Gebers and the musicians. The FMP festivals were like laboratories and performance stages, noisy trade fair stands and meditation space for self reflection. The Workshop Freie Musik and the Total Music Meeting were not aimed at presenting products but demonstrating working processes, the intricate paths of creativity and making them intelligible for the audience. Obviously it was also about separating oneself from the establishment, from the autumnal Berlin Jazzdays with the allegedly so representative programme: "You had all those pick-up bands on stage on the Jazzdays which [Joachim Ernst] Berendt put together," Gebers describes the motivation to push through the first TMM at the Quasimodo in November 1968, "and absolutely nobody felt like doing any of that. Above all else we wanted to create the possibility of presenting fixed groups in the way that they were actually working together. Very soon there were open formations, as well, because this obviously got around in no time and the early morning hours in that place were just great." 2)
Within the scene itself there was a tendency to focus the isolated forces - one was fiddling around in the local student bars - and to network internationally, as well. In Cologne, in 1968, an autonomously organized festival started up in opposition to the Jazz establishment, in an underground car park. The Total Music Meeting as well as the Workshop Freie Musik, organized for the first time in spring 1969 in the West Berlin Akademie der Künste were to carry on the advancement. Peter Brötzmann was one of the driving forces, his Rhineland based colleagues Schlippenbach, Schoof and Kowald joined in, in Berlin, bass player Jost Gebers became inspired by the idea. He used his local contacts, organized a few things, approached people, looked for venues. There were no plans for a label yet, there was no way of anticipating what kind of momentum the Berlin business was going to develop.
In hindsight it is difficult to distinguish the differences between the Total Music Meeting and the Workshop. The TMM put groups on stage which presented their music over several performances. The workshop put the emphasis on the dynamic processes within the music itself: public rehearsals, open constellations, concerts without fixed ending, fun and games with children in the afternoon, who must have gazed upon Brötzmann or Han Bennink as circus creatures (however, the children’s workshops obviously did not provide for a boom in Free Music in the eighties ….). This was the tendency. 3)
Fights broke out when, in 1969, blues fans preferred to listen to Alexis Korner than Schlippenbach’s Nonet during the first workshop, »3 Nights Of Living Music And Minimal Art«. There were the regular long faces when members of the audience, hoping for endless sessions, brought their own instruments but for obvious reasons were not allowed on stage. There were musicians who never got on stage because other bands just would not stop playing and Gebers had to send them to their hotel around four or five o’clock (the fee was paid anyway). There was the East Berlin Haus der Jungen Talente, which later became the Podewil, where the Total Music Meeting moved to in 1991. There was a number of Berlin concert series - Free Concerts at Townhall (Rathaus Charlottenburg, 1970-1995), Summer Music (Haus am Waldsee, Zehlendorf, 1980-1995), Just Music (in FMP’s own studio, Wedding, 1986-1989), between 1970 and 1993 a total of twelve specials (outside of Berlin, the FMP's programmes were mirrored in the Wuppertal Free-Jazz-Workshops and the first editions of the New Jazz Festival in Moers). There were regular concerts and recording sessions in the bar Flöz. And, finally, there was less and less money from the public administration. If you look at the list of concert activities today - they can be viewed on the homepage of the publisher, all that was happening is not as surprising as all that that was sacrificed by a narrow-minded cultural policy.
Gebers & Co.
FMP, this was a musicians’ initiative. This is the popular view. Mostly one talks about a founder generation only because it is just that musicians take care of their own music first and foremost and have to do this in quite a tough manner, and this is why business operations already in the early years had focussed on one person, the musician with the least career ambitions: Jost Gebers.
The story has, how to put it?, the right feel. However, it doesn’t fit the facts. FMP has never been a musicians’ initiative. It is correct to say that there was an attempt at self organisation prior to FMP, which was short-lived and quickly failed. It is also correct to say that there was a need within the scene to join forces, in order to generate favourable cultural political as well as economical conditions for this marginalized kind of music. Peter Brötzmann was the driving force behind these efforts, and it was him who, in summer 1969, convinced Gebers to set up a management and to produce records in this context, as well. Gebers dropped the idea of management pretty soon, the intention to release LPs, on the other hand, was realized very quickly, FMP was founded in late summer, at the end of 1969 »European Echoes« was released under the direction of Manfred Schoof. (The title of this extreme and excessive album sounds like a harsh reaction to Ornette Coleman’s intentionally naive waltz of the same name. Gebers, however, is sure that references to Coleman’s ironic greeting to Europe played no role at all.) The fate of FMP was in Gebers' hands right from the beginning.
There was, obviously, a setting, after all »European Echoes« formed a kind of founding document. This setting, however, this largish group of young musicians, was not involved in the actual ‘business’. On the contrary: "and we thought, ok, we’re all in on this, let’s make a record. The result was a great feeling of something’s going to happen, great euphoria. Obviously, because everybody felt, great, now we’ve got an organization, here we go. Naturally nothing happened. First of all it backfired. Ok, you have 500 records but you’ve got to sell them first. And you’ve got an idea and you have to put it into practice. What followed was an enormous dry spell and of course some people left again due to the lack of prospects. And stayed out, with the exception of Brötzmann." 4)
Of the first ten albums there are eight featuring Brötzmann, including four original productions and two re-issues. Inevitably, the Peter Brötzmann, Fred Van Hove and Han Bennink trio (complemented by Albert Mangelsdorff) was the focus of these early FMP activities. This trio led the way into the seventies: fanning out, diversification of stylistic means, the move away from power play, included quotations, ironic gestures and extra-musical activities. The Brötzmann trio could really take off, but it could also completely reject the Free Jazz high energy, which could go to the point of ignorance of the musicians of each other. On the left the brooding Van Hove, on the right, Bennink, bruitistic, and up in the clouds: Brötzmann. It is extremely difficult to make the processes within this group comprehensible on one LP, correspondingly the recordings of this group are not works closed in themselves but resemble disparate, jagged artefacts. As a consequence, one appreciates even more the amount of space given to this trio in the early years of FMP. Brötzmann, Van Hove and Bennink anticipate the diversity of style which was to become the real character of the FMP productions from 1975/76 onwards.
In 1972, FMP’s working conditions change: only now the label becomes a musicians’ cooperative. In addition to Gebers, Peter Brötzmann and then Peter Kowald, Alexander von Schlippenbach and the Wuppertal percussionist Detlef Schönenberg step in. This somehow works for four years, by then the conflicts have intensified to such a degree that the breaking up of FMP looks imminent. Gebers is disappointed by the lack of involvement from the musicians, they, on the other hand, are frustrated that FMP is not solely at their own disposition. They split up. Gebers wants to throw in the towel and, once again, it is Brötzmann who motivates him to carry on. Artistically, the separation has no consequence anyhow, Schlippenbach and Kowald are still the musicians who can publish all of their projects, in accordance with Gebers, on FMP (only Schönenberg will pull out, first from FMP then, from the beginning of the eighties, from the music scene altogether, resulting in Improvised Music loosing on one of its most sound sensitive percussionists).
In 1976, after it had become clear that from the business point of view, Gebers would have sole responsibility, he takes the risk and opens up FMP to young, still unknown musicians: to the Georg Gräwe Quintet, to Martin Theurer and Elmar Kräling, to the Swiss piano player Urs Voerkel.
At this point one has to make a break - Gebers is not a producer in the classical sense, not a meta musician, who tries indirectly / directly to exert an influence on the music by means of organising sessions and the selection of musicians. He makes the records, however, the music makes him. In interviews and conversations he always points out that for a long time he could never tell what would happen to FMP the following year. 300 LP and CD productions disguise how big a factor chance played, and also the missed, rejected opportunities have to be seen in this context, eg a performance of the Brötzmann Group with Don Cherry and the hardcore electronics player Hugh Davies, which one quite simply forgot to record. Or a concert of Peter Brötzmann and fusion piano player Jasper van’t Hof, the tapes of which were erased at some point.
Gebers has never made a living out of FMP, on the contrary, together with Dagmar Gebers, his wife at that time, he put large sums into the label year after year. The label was sustaining considerable losses. Regular funding only existed for the Workshop Freie Musik, foreign improvisors - it was a hard struggle with the cultural institutions - only received DAAD grants from 1978 onwards, the first one being John Tchicai. From the financial point of view, the Total Music Meeting was the proverbial bottomless pit, one third of the LPs could not refinance themselves through their sales and were dependent on cross-financing via the few successful ones - usually LPs by, surprise, surprise! Peter Brötzmann. Dieter Hahne, on board since 1975 as office worker and tireless organizer, drew a modest salary, even by Berlin standards.
Things went along half ok because Gebers had a day job, which carried him through until his retirement in 2002. He worked as a social worker in a youth club in Charlottenburg (he set up the first FMP studio in the cellar of the place). For him and Dagmar, FMP was an after hours job. There were no holidays, they were completely lost in favour of the organisation and realisation of the festivals, there was no travelling unless Gebers had to do the sound on some Wuppertal Free Jazz Workshop. The first time he really managed to get out of Berlin - and then directly to New York - was only in 1983, this time as well in connection with a collaboration on a festival (Sound Unity).
Gebers was dependent on the environment, for good or evil, he couldn’t just criss-cross the country tracking down new bands and musicians. Schlippenbach recommended Theurer and Kräling, Irène Schweizer, also in the inner circle of the FMP, introduced Urs Voerkel, Han Bennink presented the West African percussion ensemble Africa Djolé (which - to make matters worse - was to make FMP a forerunner in the area of World Music). FMP proliferated through musicians’ recommendations - and through the creativity of the musicians themselves, someone like Peter Kowald continuously brought in new sounds through his numerous suggestions for duos, his utopic trio with Wadada Leo Smith and his post-postmodern Global Village Combos. Rüdiger Carl, seemingly in all innocence, playing an accordion, turned Free Jazz upside down and created graceful sea shanties 5) out of ecstatic improvisations (Pharaoh Sanders!). On several special productions, Sven-Åke Johansson uses the opportunity to alphabetize his parallel universe somewhere between paper-mâché drum and Cool Jazz. Some just seem to appear from out of nowhere, guitar player Hans Reichel, for example, who moves to Wuppertal in 1969 and is soon to belong to the inner FMP circle. On his home-made guitars, Reichel plays a kind of music which does not seem to have any role models - you can make out neither Jimi Hendrix nor John Fahey nor Derek Bailey, the guitar heroes of those years, in his music, and yet his music is as folky as Fahey's, as bluesy as Hendrix' and as freely idiosyncratic as Bailey's.
Directly alongside FMP, SAJ starts to blossom out. A spin-off of FMP, originally founded in order to elevate a previously published self production of Sven-Åke Johansson into the programme, hence the initials. SAJ quickly becomes independent, first Gebers uses it to accommodate albums which are subject to a different mode of accounting, followed by LPs which are, at that point, too unusual for FMP. (Later it was assumed that SAJ was supposed to be the section for foreign musicians, while FMP itself was reserved for West German, GDR and Swiss musicians. 6) According to Gebers, however, this was never the intention.) Looking back, the division of the label's work into FMP and SAJ and further subdivisions - from 1982 to 1985 Uhlklang is added, from 1984 onwards an S-series follows which miraculously seems to be reserved for Sven-Åke Johansson - not very conclusive, especially as these divisions ended with the start of the CD edition. It was, however, never about the master plan but about ideas of impulsive musicians.
And it was also about survival! By 1983 they had run out of steam, the Gebers were financially drained, especially since Dagmar had lost her job the year before, the label floundered over tax hurdles. By way of precaution, the end was announced. But things carried on, somehow. In 1984 »Pläne« took over the distribution of the FMP and SAJ-LPs which first of all brought quite some relief. Dieter Hahne set up his own record shop in the old office space, while Gebers moved to an industrial loft in Wedding - which used to be Alexander von Schlippenbach's rehearsal room - and began to set up a studio. The studio was completed by 1986, but only in 1989 was FMP granted permanent official funding by the Berlin senate. This secured the Total Music Meeting, the reappointment of Dieter Hahne (1993) and further operations of the recording studio (which, however, had to be terminated already in 1993 for financial reasons).
"In the midst of capitalism on the field of capitalism, playing against capitalism, starting out...", this is how the great journalist and writer Wilhelm Liefland has described FMP's role. 7) Liefland, who committed suicide in 1980 and to whom FMP dedicated the double album »Snapshot. Jazz aus der DDR«, one of its most beautiful editions, was an inspired Free-Jazz-enthusiast and a committed left-wing music critic. But this misses the point of the label's role. FMP was no anti-capitalist undertaking, Gebers would have regarded commercial success as something very pleasant. Rather, FMP was a non-capitalist undertaking, unable (by its articles) to make a profit, at least a profit which would have guaranteed a reasonable living for everybody involved.
What does Peter Brötzmann actually sound like?
Through various statements from the FMP environment the battle cry circulated: on our records Brötzmann sounds like Brötzmann, Bennink like Bennink, Lovens like Lovens. The recording and production aesthetics correspond with the music, not the other way round. The record producer must comply with the demands of the musicians: during a recording session with vibraphone player and pianist Karl Berger, Sven-Åke Johansson refused to retune his bass drum which was covering up all the other sounds with its booming low frequencies. As a consequence, Gebers had to call off the recording. (Was he irritated about this? "No", Gebers says, "hardly, that's just how it was.")
The musicians were obstinate to the point of stubbornness. Gebers on the other hand, was not a trained sound engineer, anyway the technology was expensive and delicate and not very flexible - in short: typical FMP aesthetics were also the result of a lack of means. Arte Povera. The sound of the seventies and eighties is quite unique: very authentic but, at the same time, strangely undynamic; often fuzzy and muffled, and then, again, crisp and uncontrived. The recordings which were made in the windowless cellar at Gebers’ work - which went well up to the point when this cellar was cleaned out by burglars in 1979 - have even some claustrophobic elements, they sound so dense and gasping. Just listen to the solo LP Alexander von Schlippenbach recorded there (1977). What is happening? Still panic or already coming out of it?
But what is one supposed to do? The Schlippenbach Quartet - Peter Kowald joins as bass player in the seventies, and what begins as maybe the most prolific phase of this long-lived group - has a tendency towards radical melding of sounds which open out into dazzling, dissonant soundscapes. This piercing and screaming - who is it? Evan Parker, overblowing the soprano? Peter Kowald with his harsh bowing techniques? Schlippenbach’s inside-playing? Paul Lovens bowed metal? Everything is taken to its limits (and this is exactly why this music is so good, Very good because very strong 8)!): the musicians’ ability to communicate, the audience’s willingness to listen, the room's acoustics, the recording technique. And how do you deal with an apparition like Han Bennink who leaves the drums behind in the seventies in order to sort of do everything (if possible at the same time): mistreat Tibetan horns, outshine Brötzmann in a clarinet-blow-out, turn the whole stage into a percussion instrument?
Gebers concludes that an LP should not be just a mere document, that, as supporting producer one should not allow oneself to be led up the garden path, that a recording may be able to reproduce a concert. Nearly all the FMP productions are edited, at times rearranged and differently mixed recordings. "The tape is played music", Gebers says, this is why it is accessible to being worked upon. "Now it has all been recorded and we make the best of it for this medium, record or CD." 9)
»We«, that is to say the musicians and Gebers, because the pieces on the LPs were always put together by him in agreement with the musicians. The music captured on the recording is no longer beholden to the past event but to the artists as such and, obviously, to the purchaser who is not identical to the people in the audience during the recording.
The sound changes during the nineties, when FMP completely switches over to digital productions and probably also because the excellent (live) sound engineer Holger Scheuermann climbs on board. Even prior to that Gebers was able to do multi-track recordings in his own studio and thus manage such complex productions like the one of Burkhard Glaetzner with New Music for Oboe and Vinko Globokar’s collective solo improvisations.
The obstinacy continues in the design of the LPs and CDs. When the graphic artist Brötzmann designs the covers (which mainly applies to his own productions), the design requirements are largely satisfied, Brötzmann’s signature, a brashly produced beefiness, is unmistakable. Most of the other covers, often designed by Gebers himself, but also by Dieter Hahne or Manfred Kussatz, the drummer of the early Gebers groups, masterfully defy the rules of design, also Dagmar Gebers' photos are highly individual, intimate snapshots yet never obtrusive or ingratiating. Her photos, in all their casualness, have given FMP an image. The covers do without kitsch and marketing, they represent the apparentness of the information to be communicated - but they draw their charm from the unconcerned, unaffected, totally non- ideological do-it-yourself aesthetics.
You just have to drop the catchword FMP in the Free Jazz aficionados community and ask for the list of musicians associated with this catchword - in all likelihood they will be the same ten, fifteen names. In general, however, Gebers' work is characterized by a fundamental trust in connection with the scene: it was never just about the clique which was involved right from the beginning. Who ever played for FMP once and has not said goodbye to the Free Music Scene over the years, is not so quickly lost sight of. In 1974, Alfred Harth, with the trio EMT, presented a kind of fragile Free Jazz, carefully feeling its way, 1976, 1978 and 1979 sessions by Alfred Harth/Heiner Goebbels are recorded on two SAJ-LPs - Free Jazz as means of imbuing a new spirit in Hanns Eisler’s old battle songs. In 1982, SAJ once again documents Harth’s endeavour to master a big saxophone orchestra with non-professionals - somewhere between Zappa and Globe Unity. In 1987 Harth plays a duo with Peter Brötzmann wresting completely new sounds and ways of playing from him. In 1991 Harth is represented in the trio State of Volgograd (with Lindsay Cooper and Phil Minton), fragmenting free music in a postmodern-eclectic manner.
Those are the songlines, the musical dream pathways of FMP: many of the musicians are not bound to the label, or at least not in the way you can say that about Peter Brötzmann or Alexander von Schlippenbach, but FMP comes back to them. Achim Knispel, Willi Kellers, Keith and Julie Tippett, Jean-Marc Montera, Erhard Hirt, Michel Pilz, Günter Christmann, Phil Minton, Misha Mengelberg, Steve Lacy, Louis Sclavis, Fodé Youla, Butch Morris, Werner Lüdi, Tristan Honsinger, Joëlle Léandre … this list is just at random, can be extended almost at will. The label has been nourished by this kind of openness - that a musician who, at some point, presented a good project on an FMP concert has earned enough credit so that he or she can still present a new project even years later. And only this openness has guaranteed the diversity which has never been simply randomness. Openness towards the different musicians and their different ways of playing corresponds to openness towards music itself: just listen to the development of Günter Christmann, leaving behind the power play he suitably embraced with the young Rüdiger Carl and percussionist Schönenberg in 1972 (while a certain sense of scepticism could already be detected toward the harsh taking off), towards the kind of micro music he delves into in 1985 in the duo with bass player Torsten Müller. Christmann’s music can be taken as an example of the fact that standards which have once been set are, as a matter of principle, never seen as fixed but, within themselves represent material which is continuously puzzled over in the course of the interminable improvisations.
You have a certain sound in your head. This is normal because the brain reduces the impressions. But the closer you listen, the more alien it resounds. There is no such thing as the FMP sound. There is the completely independent sound cosmos of the King Übü Örchestrü, which demonstrated like no other large formation that widely set out collective improvisations, do not have to be drastically loud, coarse and snotty, but can sound like a humming, buzzing, rustling-crackling spring meadow. There is a remarkable congregation of highly special guitar players: Hans Reichel (first and foremost), Achim Knispel, Erhard Hirt, Andreas Willers, Joe Sachse, Stephan Wittwer, Jean-Marc Montera, Olaf Rupp (and greetings from the fringe from Fred Frith and Derek Bailey, Sonny Sharrock and Caspar Brötzmann). There are notable collaborations with classic players of the German Jazz scene, that is to say those musicians who were stars of the scene years before FMP: with Albert Mangelsdorff and Gunter Hampel, Wolfgang Dauner and Gerd Dudek. Willem Breuker had the possibility to present his collective after he had long said goodbye to the Free Music scene. Radical research in sound which has been obviously only »appreciated« over the last few years (only now have those recordings been canonized and acclaimed as milestones) was always welcome: the equally somewhat brittle and ingenious electro acoustic musician Hugh Davies and the ever amazing inventor of instruments Michel Waisvisz produced their early solo albums on SAJ; Andy Guhl and Norbert Möslang moved away from improvisation with conventional instruments towards their harsh, shrill sound colour harmonies, composed exclusively with »cracked everyday electronics«, with readapted consumer electronic junk; Radu Malfatti and Stephan Wittwer turned around the parameters of their instruments (trombone/guitar) to the completely unexpected and created a kind of noise music, unique up to the present day; Vinko Globokar performing in the studio as a kind of quintuple soloist (via overdubs) devised a totally bizarre collective improvisation.
And alongside, in between, in front of and behind it: sublime, straight ahead, brilliant Free Jazz. From Michel Pilz, Itaru Oki and Ralf Hübner; from Charles Gayle, William Parker and Rashied Ali; from Peter Brötzmann, Harry Miller and Louis Moholo; from the Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky Quartet; the Schlippenbach trio; the Brötzmann-Schoof Quartet, Irène Schweizer’s trio, Louis Moholo and Rüdiger Carl. But this line, as well, is not as straight as one may think. There is an FMP CD called »Songlines«. A key work - in particular because objectively you cannot really call the pieces successful: Brötzmann struggles to find the collective line, together with drummer Rashied Ali and bass player Fred Hopkins. There is the desire for understanding - however, they still miss each other. But at the point where the musicians move away from one another, where they have given up each following the other, their individual songlines result in a shimmering network, cooperation which does not presume any unity, an understanding which includes long moments of uncertainty.
There is no FMP sound. But there is a platform on which we hear the most varied of sounds. A platform which has only come into being through the presentation of the most varied attitudes of playing, uniquely committed to the freedom of the music.
Lost Generation? The second wave of Free Music
"›In a State of Undress‹ could have been a classic record of German Free Jazz had the record been made 20 years earlier. In the meantime, however, the style has aged together with its forefathers and it never had any sons", this is how in 1990 the critic Hans-Jürgen Schaal judged one of the last vinyl productions on the label. 10) This was about the recording of a quartet with a literally classic line-up: Peter Brötzmann on saxophone, Manfred Schoof on trumpet, bass player Jay Oliver and drummer Willi Kellers. Schaal’s criticism is devastating because what could be worse for a musicians' recording, claiming to break new ground, than the statement that one is antiquated. What is even worse: one has not even found a successor! Apart from the fact that, as an improvising musician, you don’t tend to think in categories the likes of predecessors and successors, because in this kind of music it is not about estates and genealogies, the question remains: has there really been no second generation of Free Jazz musicians within the framework of FMP? This question takes care of itself immediately: there has been a second generation. But whatever happened to it? Let’s narrow it down: the second generation includes the musicians born between 1950 and 1960, that is, those who first reached musical maturity in the seventies, and for them the first groups of West German Free Jazz - the Schoof Quintet, the first formation of the Globe Unity Orchestra, Hampel’s »Heartplants« group, the Brötzmann trio and his »Machine Gun« are already distant history. 11)
The list of musicians of the second generation is impressive: Georg Gräwe and his Quintet, the piano players Martin Theurer, Bernhard Arndt and Elmar Kräling, guitarists Achim Knispel, Stephan Wittwer, Erhard Hirt and Andreas Willers, the sound creators Andy Guhl and Norbert Möslang, the Friedemann Graef Group, the very idiosyncratic trio Ohpsst, the percussionist Willi Kellers (Furthermore musicians from the GDR: Johannes Bauer, Helmut Joe Sachse, Dietmar Diesner, Uwe Kropinski…). Basically, the difference between this generation and the first one is the fact that it actually does not really constitute a generation! Because except for the formal data - year of birth, point of time of debut on the FMP label, it is evident that there is hardly any common ground. The Gräwe Quintet quite evidently is geared to the classic Schoof-Quintet, ten years its senior. At the time of their debut in 1976, the musicians from the Ruhr area are in their early twenties, musically, however, they belong to the first generation. On the other hand, the radical attitude of Wittwer, Möslang/Guhl, Theurer and Hirt point in a totally different direction - away from all connections to Jazz, away from all established patterns of Improvisation! These musicians already point to a third and fourth generation of improvisors who work in the electro acoustic area and are no longer interested in generating rhythmic energy. The group Ohpsst does not fit any of the categories - with their chamber-music like mixture of well-composed structures and free improvisation which already seem like a memento from a different world, they present a self-contained kind of music which one would spontaneously allocate to the late postmodern nineties (if at all). Wolfgang Fuchs doggedly sets up his own scene in Berlin-Kreuzberg in the eighties and nineties, leading up to an improvisation orchestra in which some of the most important young improvisors of the last 15 years played (Axel Dörner, Olaf Rupp, Andrea Neumann, Gregor Hotz).
So, the second generation emerges as a conglomerate of individualists whose paths correspondingly take idiosyncratic courses: Georg Gräwe's later music has got very little to do with his earlier orientation towards the Schoof Quintet, and the fact that Stephan Wittwer advanced to becoming an exceptionally gifted Hardcore-Free-Metal guitarist who, on the other hand, these days almost exclusively concerns himself musically with the software Super Collider - nobody would have imagined this.
This is where these musicians are in accordance with the other line of improvised music: the first one consisting of the fact that it is first and foremost about collectively improvised music; the second being that this collective music is played by strong individual personalities. (There is one collective document, however: the first LP of the Berlin Jazz Workshop Orchestra, combining the most important groups of the younger musicians - Gräwe's and Graef's, Ohpsst etc from 1978, under the somewhat reserved leadership of John Tchicai). One should not forget the fact that quite a number of musicians did not manage to establish themselves as artists, that after a few years withdrew, gave up improvising, disappeared completely. Which also has to do with the fact that space is scarce for improvisation. And mainly occupied by musicians of the first generation obviously also concerned about their profiles and their livelihoods. 12) There has to be a well-developed tolerance of frustration, "Improvised music", Derek Bailey once said, "does not open doors, except the exit doors".
Learning from the USA, means …
The relationship between European and American Free Jazz can be summed up in one sentence: at the point where the Europeans started to play their Free Jazz, the European Jazz emerges from the epigonical dependence on American trends and its own Jazz history begins. The question, however, is: how big is the share of the American Free Jazz in the European tradition?
European Free Music feeds off sources which have nothing to do with Jazz: from the decaying serialism of New Music, a process which aroused great interest in different forms of improvisation in composers the likes of Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Vinko Globokar, Franco Evangelisti or Cornelius Cardew: controlled improvisational processes were to help transform the sound material into a successful piece of music, something the strict serialism of the fifties had failed to do. Improvisors like Alexander von Schlippenbach, Manfred Schoof, Willem Breuker, Misha Mengelberg or John Stevens were close observers of the emancipation of New Music from the rigid twelve-tone music.
European Free Music, however, also feeds off open, process-related, deconstructed happenings in the visual arts. Just think of Fluxus, the young Peter Brötzmann who is working as an assistant to Nam June Paik at the Wuppertal Werkkunstschule with a career as painter and 'action artist' in front of him. Mengelberg and Han Bennink, as well, are involved in the 'Fluxus' movement, the first recordings on their label ICP are not just sound recordings but works of art - little, impudent Gesamtkunstwerke with individually designed covers.
Post-Serialism and Fluxus, however, are not the main components of European improvised music, they are by all means accidental, their function is to filter the basic material so that in fact a new kind of music crystallizes out. This basic material, however, is American Free Jazz. This provides for discussion (which in principle every new generation of improvisors faces, to the present day): does this result in the close relationship between the European and the American scenes? Or, on the contrary: is it about pushing one's own position towards improvisation so far, so independently that the Free Jazz roots are completely cut? At the beginning of the seventies you can hear derogatory statements from the circles of FMP musicians: one is going different ways, the American colleagues are not really of any help here, one has to find one's own language. On the other hand, American musicians performed on the FMP festivals right from the beginning, nota bene: Pharaoh Sanders and Sonny Sharrock dropped in on the first Total Music Meeting. From 1975 onwards you can find productions of American musicians on SAJ: recordings by Steve Lacy, Noah Howard and Michael Smith, to name the first ones. Anthony Braxton joins the Globe Unity Orchestra. At a later point in time the link-ups follow: Peter Kowald and Günter Sommer celebrate the unification of East and West together with Wadada Leo Smith, Peter Brötzmann meets Andrew Cyrille, fraternizes with Frank Wright and from the middle of the eighties consistently strives to collaborate with American colleagues - Ronald Shannon Jackson, Sonny Sharrock, Bill Laswell, Fred Hopkins, William Parker, Hamid Drake, Ken Vandermark, Walter Perkins, Nasheet Waits, Joe McPhee. And once again it is Peter Kowald who introduces another American to the FMP circus: Charles Gayle. Alexander von Schlippenbach records a session with Sunny Murray, as the drummer of Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler one of the key figures of Free Jazz. Highlight of this re-Americanization is maybe the Total Music Meeting in 1991: five Americans (Charles Gayle, Fred Hopkins, William Parker, Rashied Ali, Andrew Cyrille), four Europeans (Brötzmann, Kowald, Evan Parker and Tony Oxley) - three saxophonists, three bassists and three percussionists - meet and, through the musicians’ choices, play “in every conceivable combination”, as the programme announces.
In spite of this event - the tension persists: a lot of the American colleagues refuse the all out improvisation, they prefer guidelines and clear arrangements. On the other hand critics doubt that the Europeans are generally capable of responding to the Jazz saturated sound sensitivity with something appropriate. In the liner notes of »Songlines«, Steve Lake assigns the roles in a surprisingly decided manner - on the one hand, Brötzmann and his robust-coarse way of playing, on the other hand bassist Fred Hopkins as sensitive mediator. His criticism is classic: " Hopkins (…) tries to follow Peter's unfathomable scheme of ballads - a generous gesture, in view of his almost perfect awareness of tone. Anyway, one part of the audience will be truly relieved when at half time Brötzmann racks up the intensity with his typical phrases and shredded sounds by several degrees, and intonation, that old ghost, is no longer the issue. Since Ornette's first performances, there is the possibility of playing ›tempered‹ or ›untempered‹ Jazz, but one would still like to have the feeling that the artist is free to decide!" 13)
It may be that the musical disaccord lies in the fact that American Free Jazz players understand their music as a continuation of a bigger continuum, “Great Black Music” the Chicago iconoclasts around Lester Bowie used to call it - even the most audacious Afro futurism is true to the tradition (for Archie Shepp in the sixties there was the smallest gap between Free Jazz and Blues). European Free Jazz, which is quickly willing to delete the term »Jazz« from its name, defines itself through its break with tradition. As simple as schematic. The numerous American-European collaborations which FMP encouraged and finally documented, demonstrate models from spontaneous understanding (Brötzmann in duo with Andrew Cyrille) to respectful distance (Schlippenbach and Sam Rivers), variants which turn this disaccord into something productive.
Cecil Taylor in Berlin
Any reflection about the relationship between European and American improvisors within the framework of FMP remains incomplete if it does not include Cecil Taylor's stays in Berlin. Already as early as in 1986 the pianist comes to Berlin, plays at the Workshop Freie Musik and has to find a replacement for his partner Jimmy Lyons who is seriously ill. The alto player has played with Taylor for over 25 years - not as a sideman but as somebody who made Taylor's endless journey possible in the first place. The brusque cascades, the flighty playing consisting of whirls, interleaving, sudden twists, brutal clusters, fragmenting themselves in Lyon's exorbitantly light, extremely elastic playing which is immensely quiet despite its speed and fast reactions - finding their ideal counter part. All this needs to be mentioned - because Taylor's first performance for FMP is regarded as less than successful by Gebers. The safebreakers Frank Wright and Peter Brötzmann take the place of the subtle locksmith Lyons, Taylor allows them little space, all in all the musicians seem to be accessories, Taylor, on the other hand, even more eccentric. Lyon's absence is audible. 14)
Two years later Taylor comes to Berlin for a whole month - the summer fairy tale of Free Jazz, lasting from 17 th June until 17 th July. Nele Hertling, head of the »Werkstatt Berlin«, had invited Gebers to come up with a music series for the Berlin Capital of Culture programme at that time. Gebers wants Taylor - namely AND in direct confrontation with the European scene. Five duos with European, that is Europe-based percussionists are set up, a chamber music trio with Evan Parker and Tristan Honsinger is envisaged, Taylor is to give workshops, play solo concerts, develop large-scale compositions with a unique big band - comprising the whole scene: from Gunter Hampel to Johannes Bauer, from Peter van Bergen to Enrico Rava. And as an outlandish highlight: a duet with Derek Bailey, explicitly wished for by Taylor, nobody had reckoned with that. Today, the summer of ‘88 is seen as THE event in Free Music, comparable to the »October Revolution in Jazz« taking place in New York in 1964, when the young musicians of the New Thing took the scene by storm and Free Jazz, for a tiny instant, assumed the command over the American Jazz scene.
No matter how close the bonds between Europeans and Americans were before - the Taylor Festival newly and completely redefined the relationship. Since that time Free Music is irrevocably seen as something global, no longer divided into » USA« and » Europe«. And since that time FMP is a fixed concept on the American scene.
The special thing about this particular month is that something definitely happened. We do not hear »surprising meetings«, no »electrifying sessions«, no »inspired improvisations«. Instead: progress. The musicians play together and everybody - the performers on stage, the audience in the hall, the CD buyers in their armchairs: things are no longer the way they were before and it will never be the way it once was. What we hear: the progress in music.
One had not heard Han Bennink and Paul Lovens as mature, as balanced and as focussed as this before; Günter Sommer plays in a taut manner, very economical, more alert than alert, Bailey does not dissent (as many expected at that time), does not gruffly oppose his partner, but develops common ground with Taylor piece by piece. Oxley acts as if he had already been Taylor’s drummer for twenty years, and then there is Louis Moholo, the exiled comrade from South Africa who can finally interweave the threads: South African Jive and Kwela-Music, New York Free-Jazz-Power, London Hardcore-Improv.
And Taylor himself? He leaves Jazz behind, he acts more openly, more constructivist, demonstrates explicit interest in structures, in sensitive interactions. What he has always postulated, the fact that his music has got something to do with dance, and is itself dance, only now becomes evident. In this summer, Taylor plays solos the like of which he would not want to backslide on: energy no longer only results in superior virtuosity but can be experienced in all its separate elements, energy as a result of the intertwining of infinitely small rhythmic movements and melodic ideas.
Gebers defies all economic concerns and chisels out an 11-CD-Box 15) within a year’s time (nowadays a mystical collector’s item, even though all the CDs except one are available as single editions).
Once again: we hear the progress in the music. No doubt about that. But are we also hearing good music? The fact is that only very few recordings go beyond the discovery of something New. There is a lack of intensification; the ecstasy of improvisation is inhibited. The New has not yet extended to the de rigeur. This will only show itself over the next years; Taylor has got unfinished business in Berlin.
And he returns: in 1989 he dominates the Total Music Meeting, 1990 - with his DAAD grant - FMP bases the »TaylorTotalTaylor« festival around him. In 1993 he can be heard on the Workshop Freie Musik. In 1996, one half of the Total Music Meeting revolves around him (the other half around Steve Lacy, and everybody in the audience had secret hopes that the old companions who had been sniffing around free improvisation in 1958 would get together once again. Obviously, the disappointment was foreseeable). Particularly in 1989, 1990 and 1993 Taylor reaps the fruits of that summer. His solo playing sounds even more refined, clearer, more unexpected. From the circle of drummers he has chosen Tony Oxley for his Feel Trio (William Parker on bass, invincible like the bouncer of a hotspot in Berlin-Mitte), the forever circulating Oxley - he completely detaches himself from any time feel, he swings, so to speak, in abstract rhythms, does not orientate himself towards energy but sound colours. And how he swings! In 1990 the Berlin based Finnish soprano saxophonist Harri Sjöström joins the inner Taylor circle. His light, uncomplicated playing, the bright, clicking sounds allow him to step into Jimmy Lyons’ shoes, even if he never achieves Lyons’ flexibility. For a couple of years Sjöström becomes Taylor’s central European partner - and coordinator.
Obviously there are highlights and phases of stagnation in Taylor's music which many listeners at first experience as hermetic and eccentric. The early trio with Lyons and Sunny Murray (1962) is ground-breaking, his Unit (1969-1974) with Lyons and Andrew Cyrille, hardboiled. And then there are his FMP years, 1988-1996. 16)
The end of the story: FMP and the GDR scene
The history of Free Music is open because the music is open. This does not apply to one particular scene: the improvisors from the former GDR. Free Jazz from the GDR has come to its end with the demise of the GDR. This is by no means a banal statement, because on the other hand most of the groups from the GDR have survived the collapse of the state and have continued to work until the present day and for sure the musicians have not just simply thrown their past overboard. But the music is simply different now, it is no longer subject to the production conditions of a Prussian-socialist didactic dictatorship (is no longer obliged to work at it).
In 1972, the first contacts between FMP, musicians from East Berlin and the GDR radio were established. Contrary to all fears the collaboration turned out to be unbureaucratic, even flexible towards the requirements of the label and the musicians. Highlight of this unusual cooperation was the Snapshot-Festival, »Jazz aus der DDR«, which FMP organized in 1979 in the Akademie der Künste and squeezed on to a double LP.
FMP documented Free Jazz in the GDR even before the state-owned enterprise Amiga did so - they allowed Gebers and the musicians to do as they pleased, be it that the cultural officials had discovered an uncontroversial area which allowed them to demonstrate the state’s liberal and cosmopolitan view (after Jazz in the GDR had virtually been bullied until well into the sixties), be it that they did not realize the subversive quality of the music. Free Jazz was not a marginal phenomenon on the GDR scene but - world-wide unique - dominated it. And rightly so. Because the music of Ulrich Gumpert, Günter Baby Sommer, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky, Conrad Bauer, Hans Rempel, Manfred Schulze, Klaus Koch and Heinz Becker proved to be immensely effective in integrating Jazz-unrelated elements, folksongs, village dance music, Hanns-Eisler-adaptations, twelve-tone music, sacred music into free improvisation. Thus it developed its very own momentum, a Central European groove which would have been impossible to invent in the West. The improvisations were even inspired by this: no West German groups (and possibly no group in Europe at all) played as powerfully and as compact in 1973 as the trio with Sommer, Gumpert and Manfred Hering. The Zentralquartett, Petrowsky, Conrad Bauer, Gumpert and Günter Sommer, transformed folk music kitsch into elegant, anthem-like themes, elastic spring boards for the broad lunging, wonderfully elegant improvisations of Petrowsky and Bauer. Manfred Schulze cracked the severity of Schönberg's twelve-tone music and extracted modules for improvisation processes from it - an endeavour unique in the history of Jazz and Free Music.
Also the second generation of GDR improvisors, Johannes Bauer, Helmut Joe Sachse, Uwe Kropinski, Dietmar Diesner, found its way to FMP. At the beginning of the eighties, at the latest, it was evident that the scene did not merely consist of a small clique of East Berlin musicians but presented a thoroughly complex network with the creative gift of self renewal. Musicians from the GDR can be heard on two dozen FMP LPs, most of these releases present original formations, some of them document the first cross-border collaborations. Most notably the trio of Peter Kowald, Wadada Leo Smith and Günter Sommer can be heard, playing music of a global vision, in which the Afro-American Chicago trumpet player Smith and the Saxon percussionist Sommer can hardly restrain their imagination and are yet continuously held together by the imperturbable bass lines of the Wuppertal bass player Kowald.
Berlin – Capital of Improvised Music.
Neither West Berlin nor Cologne, let alone Wuppertal, FMP's places of origin, would have been referred to as cosmopolitan metropolis in the sixties, seventies and eighties. There is something appealing, or rather some self-irony about Wuppertal being apostrophized the capital of European Free Jazz only because half a dozen pioneers of this kind of music lived there and organized concerts and workshops from time to time. The situation in Berlin, however, was not that much better, even back in 1992 (!) Gebers complained about the indifference of the Berlin media and the absence of the radio - which was blatantly out of step with the international reception of FMP activities. 17)
At this point in time the relocation of the government to the new capital was a done deed, word got around that there was - especially in the central east part of the city, taken by surprise by its own reunification - low-cost living space en masse, that a lot of urban spaces and structures were not yet demarcated, thus offering space for artistic proliferation. As early as in 1995 there is the latest generation of improvisors in Berlin who do not play in licensed clubs but take Free Music into the squats on Prenzlauer Berg. The Anorak Club in Dunckerstraße, in particular, constitutes the nucleus of this scene. The music is now hardly geared towards Free Jazz (also leading to conspicuous gestures of separation towards the classic East Berlin Free Jazz scene which at this point in time gathers in the Jazzkeller Treptow), but much more towards deconstructed New York or Chicago rock, and also the use of electronics and the adaptation of stylistic devices from post-serial New Musik play a major role. A veritable boom is triggered manifesting itself particularly in the continuous arrival of young musicians, continuing to the present day.
About seven kilometres south of Dunckerstraße - in the middle of Kreuzberg - the clarinet player Wolfgang Fuchs, co-founder of two of the most important new improvising groups of the eighties -Xpact and, that which emerged from it, the King Übü Örchestrü - has initiated a permanent workshop, where some of the musicians from the Anorak scene participate. Fuchs brings parts of this group into the Skyscraper-Big-Band, which does the Total Music Meeting in 1995. Skyscraper is a fragile business - the highly heterogeneous group, including decidedly non-improvising musicians as well, has to let itself get involved with the conduction of Butch Morris. Morris, originally an activist from the New York Loft scene of the seventies, has given up playing the trumpet in the nineties and has developed a system of directing allowing him (!) the best possible mix of predetermined structures and spontaneous improvisation. As a conductor without a score he employs a self-developed repertoire of structuring elements which the musicians transform in accordance with their collective improvisational imagination. In a feedback-process, Morris picks up these musical impulses and responds with new directing impulses. In the successful instances Morris and »his« musicians transcend improvisation towards a new reference framework of collective music - often, however, Morris’ inputs thwart exciting, autonomous processes among the musicians.
The fact that with Skyscraper the successful moments prevail is not least down to the fact that there is a hard core of musicians who have already developed their own language in numerous playing constellations between Naunynstraße and Dunckerstraße, responding to Morris with their own strong ideas: Stephan Mathieu (Percussion), Nicholas Bussmann (Cello), Wolfgang Fuchs (Bass clarinet), Gregor Hotz (Saxophone), Olaf Rupp (Guitar) Davide de Bernardi (Bass), Axel Dörner (Trumpet).
However, Skyscraper does not mean the admittance of the younger generation to the FMP family: the Total Music Meeting '96 is entirely dedicated to Steve Lacy and Cecil Taylor, and the next TMM, as well, is almost explicitly centered on the first generation of improvisors - Kowald, Brötzmann, Evan Parker, Charles Gayle, Schlippenbach and Sam Rivers etc.pp. That’s archconservative and, outside the Festival, creates a considerable amount of resentment in the scene. Whereupon Gebers reposts that the stage will be available to the young musicians as soon as they have come up with something musically independent and mature. Not a very friendly statement (wasn't FMP always a platform which allowed the presentation of the unseasoned in order for it to reach maturity?) In a sense Gebers was right after all: the scene of the nineties has not proved dependable or rather: consistent in its original form; with the close-down of the Anorak due to reconstruction, the music that was performed there disappeared, as well; the Ausland, which opened at the end of 2002 around the corner, already features the next generation, definitely no longer dependent on FMP.
The ones who carried on got their chances: Olaf Rupp presented two guitar albums which stick out even in the ever so rich and bewildering FMP catalogue. Gregor Hotz (also in duo with Nicholas Bussmann) presented improvisations which elegantly avoid the parameters of solo and chamber music-like saxophone improvisations established by Steve Lacy and Evan Parker. And also the lively, surprisingly free jazzy noise improvisations of the Ilinx quartet have found their space on FMP.
Nevertheless, the paths have separated: up until the middle of the nineties FMP represented the main - and also the most important tributaries of improvised music - not exclusively, but still much more comprehensively than any other label. The contact with the third and fourth generations remained sporadic. Irony of history: at the point in time when Berlin finally overcomes the parochial, at least musically, FMP, this decidedly anti-provincial, cosmopolitan undertaking takes a back seat. From 1996/97 onwards it became evident that the history of FMP would be coming to an end.
Lost years. After 2000
There was the threat of a calamity. But, no fear, the story has a happy ending, otherwise this text would not have been written and also a number of first class productions of the last years would not have been released. (Olaf Rupp's »Whiteout«, Ilinx, for example). But the millennium years are characterized by bitching, malicious gossip and misunderstandings too readily accepted.
In fact Gebers, exhausted by 30 years of stress from having two jobs, frustrated by the penny-pinching of the Berlin cultural administration, had been planning to pull out since 1997. It was supposed to run smoothly and therefore had to be thoroughly well-planned: Gebers announced his prospected retirement to the municipal administration for the turn of the year 1999/2000, his company was supposed to be wound up, the institutional funding could be dispensed with, and yet another negative post would disappear from the Arts budget. In return, Gebers was guaranteed to receive the full funding until his pullout, for a few years at least there was planning certitude. The closing of the company, however, did not mean the end of the CD productions (it did mean, on the other hand, the end of the Total Music Meeting). The FMP Verlag, the FMP publishing house, which had been representing many of the musicians' works since 1985 and is not identical with the label, continued to exist and took over the label. Gebers continued to work as a producer for this publishing company which, incidentally, was not owned by himself from 1992 until 1.1. 2007 but was run by Anna Maria Ostendorf. This meant that the publication of CDs was guaranteed beyond 1999. Also in 1999 FMP-Publishing, in a licence agreement, granted Helma Schleif, who had been connected with the label at least indirectly through her friend Wolfgang Fuchs, »the unlimited and exclusive rights to the production and worldwide distribution of the recordings of the label FMP/Free Music Production/An Edition of Improvised Music«. The entire inventory went to Ms Schleif. This meant that Gebers was free of the troublesome multiple burden.
He informed his people about the proceedings, also about the termination of the TMM, and advised his closest comrades-in-arms, Schlippenbach, Kowald, Brötzmann, Rüdiger Carl as well, to additionally look out for new labels for their future productions. The machinery, microphones, recording equipment, etc, was sold to the Podewil, from 2000 onwards Gebers intended to start with the archive work on the piles of barely manageable material (photos, programme brochures, posters, countless tapes, hundreds of specimen copies of reviews).
He had no idea that Helma Schleif's Distribution and Communication company would within a year take on a life of its own against the publishing section and that also the correctly wound up Total-Music-Meeting would play an unfortunate role. To cut a long story short: quite obviously Helma Schleif had joined together far reaching plans when taking over the distribution and the illusion to come into the whole label - including its festival. This was contrary to all agreements and arrangements and bringing Gebers' orderly withdrawal to the edge of chaos.
In November 2000, the chaos not yet broken out, Gebers, after discussions with younger musicians like Gregor Hotz and Olaf Rupp, let himself be talked into organising a TMMcompact, self-financed through admission fees and in the meantime managing without municipal funding since the company Free Music Production no longer existed - and, by the way, a very successful, easy Happening thriving on the flair of spontaneity and the musicians' enthusiasm, a lot of young faces, a few old heroes. Maybe the best TMM since the 25 th anniversary in 1992. Today Gebers regrets this decision, because - looked at in a negative light - this Compact-Version allowed his decision to wind up his company and along with it, to terminate the financial funding of the TMM, seem short-sighted, bull-headed and high-handed.
From 2001 onwards, Helma Schleif continued with her own Total Music Meeting, at first to a large extent without funding. In fact this did not have anything to do with FMP anymore, but fed off its history, also taking in some of the musicians from the old FMP pool. Who happened to be hanging around on the margins of this festival in 2001 and 2002, at the counters of the beer and wine bar in Podewil, got a good share of vicious curses and maledictions: why on earth did Gebers arbitrarily cut the festivals power supply! The fact that the festival was linked to the existence of the company FMP, that this company no longer existed, that Gebers, in return for announcing his withdrawal got planning guarantees for some not as yet fully funded festivals, that he announced his withdrawal and its consequences to confidants and long-term comrades-in-arms: these subtleties of reality did not receive an attentive ear in the environment of the alleged TMM heirs.
From the business point of view, distribution did not work out as wished for and expected - Helma Schleif did not abide by the agreements, CD's presented to her for production by the publishing company were printed with misleading and incorrect information giving the impression that the label and her distribution company were one and the same.
In 2003 Gebers, who had also quit his day-job by then, moved out into the Westphalian provinces, to Borken where the publishing company had already had its registered office for a number of years. In February 2003, the publishing company cancelled the licensing agreement with Helma Schleif without notice, which resulted in a tough legal dispute the proceedings of which were granted in favour of FMP publishing at every instance of judication. The price - not the financial, but the artistic one! - was high. The productions presented to Helma Schleif for distribution by Gebers and the publishing company were not distributed at all satisfactorily, some of them were refused by Schleif in breach of contract. At the end of 2004 Gebers fully terminated his production activities. Only in 2007 was he able and interested in taking them up again.
Those years are lost. FMP had disappeared off the scene. The comeback in the autumn of 2007 was by all means painstaking and hardly longed for by the producer, it took at least another year until word had got around on the scene and in the press that FMP was very much active after all.
Many FMP productions have been re-issued on other labels in the mean time, most of the grandfathers of the label have been able to extend their already impressive discography in an appropriate way thanks to labels such as Atavistic, Okka, Eremite or Intakt. Young improvisors are, as already mentioned, no longer dependent on FMP (although it does help to make sure of history, from time to time, but then - do it right!). The true end of FMP - an end without a bad taste - is in fact an adjournment. The history of this label is not only reflected in the musicians’ biographies but in the music itself. You don’t have to rejoice in a boozy abstruse manner with every new Brötzmann release, say on Atavistic: FMP is alive. But as long as there is Free Jazz and Improvised Music (and why should these kinds of music disappear?), they will live from this history which FMP has accrued and brought to fruition for forty years.
1) Jost Gebers and the musicians from the inner FMP circle have always disapproved of the term ‘Festival’ for their events taking place over several days. In contrast to the usual Jazz Festivals, FMP's events were not supposed to present stars and hype but rather show group processes (and encourage them) and document the current state of Improvisation. This is why the term (Anti)-Festival is more appropriate.
2) Jost Gebers in an interview with Markus Müller, Jazzthetik Nr.12/1992-1/1993, to be found here.
3) The concepts of the Workshop and TMM have converged over the years.
4) Jost Gebers in an interview with Markus Müller, l.c.
5) Paradigmatic: Carl’s interpretation of Sanders’ »Aum« on his Accordion-Solo-LP »Vorn« (1986 / FMP 1110).
6) "Until recently projects not led by Germans (together with various Not-Quite-Free-Jazz-Records and other oddities) were banned to the sister label SAJ, to be on the safe side, a confusing separation, and unworthy of the cross-border ideals of Improvisation, which with the beginning of the CD era finally ended." Steve Lake, in a FMP catalogue 1991/92, to be found here.
7) Liefland's quote is the motto of a portrait of the label by Achim Forst (1981). To be found here.
8) Title of a piece by Alexander von Schlippenbach. The title refers to his duo with Sven-Åke Johansson, but fits even more his Trio/Quartet.
9) Jost Gebers in an interview with Markus Müller, l.c.
10) Hans Jürgen Schaal in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Nr.9/1990, to be found here..
11) Transitions are obviously seamless: Paul Lovens, Hans Reichel and Wolfgang Fuchs were all born in 1949, but Lovens appeared on the scene as early as 1969, Reichel in 1970/71. We'll include them in the first generation. Wolfgang Fuchs made his debut on FMP only in 1978, therefore belonging to the second generation.
12) Another quote by Steve Lake: "The first musicians' generation had the shock of the new, the unusual on its side”. »21 years of FMP« in Jazzthetik 3/1990, to be found here (in German only).
13) FMP CD 53. The point is that Brötzmann decided on the selection of pieces he himself found risky! In his own liner notes, Brötzmann responds to Lake directly: "Actually I have always been prepared to give in to the (subtle) pressure of my fellow musicians if I had the impression it served the cause. I have certainly - especially because of Fred and Rashied - entered territory unfamiliar to me and my way of playing ballad-like is at times jolty, clumsy although this has - in my opinion - definitely a certain attraction. (…) I hope it is not regarded as blasphemy to contradict Coltrane, when he talks about a ›common reservoir‹. This has never existed. I think we all have our very own different, limited one. And each of us should try - with as much distance to oneself as possible - to make this perceptible and audible."
14) The recording was therefore not released on FMP but on a different label, »Olu Iwa« (Soul Note SN 1139, 1986).
15) As a »Sequel«, also a double CD with recordings of Taylor in East Berlin was released.
16) There was a bizarre second helping in 1999, which nobody really understood except - and please don't misunderstand this as buttering up - Jost Gebers, who actually dissected out the parts from a burlesque-weird quartet performance which are worth documenting on CD. See the CD Cecil Taylor Quartet, »Incarnation« (FMP CD 123). The cover photo, by the way, was contributed by Günter Christmann.
17) Jost Gebers in an interview with Markus Müller, l.c.
Translation: Thomas Watson
from: Book of the Special Edition FMP in Retrospect
The copyrights remain with the aforesaid sources and/or with the authors.