FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004

FMP CD 34/35

Wolfgang Burde


1971 was a year in which European Free Jazz musicians performing in the Quartier Latin, Berlin were faced with the challenge of having to assert themselves against the famous American ensembles round Ornette Coleman, the captivating Don "Sugar Cane" Harris and also the new Miles Davis line-up, all performing in the Berlin Philharmonic Hall. The jazz musicians who had formed round Peter Brötzmann, however, effortlessly succeeded in doing so, as the Berlin newspaper "Tagesspiegel" reported:

"The secret of this jazz ensemble lies in its ability to articulate in a highly differentiated manner. Only these musicians know how to make up to their fans for a certain lack of swing. Han Bennink, for instance, who deserves the title of percussion-genius, not only showered the listeners with orgiastic outbursts on the drums, he additionally masters a wide-reaching percussion technique reminiscent of chamber music. Whether it's by teasing colourful ribbons of sound from a mouth-organ or a hoop-shaped garden-house, whether he reaches for the huge alphorn or the African piano, the sound he produces is always innovative. The paper continued on Peter Brötzmann: "This saxophonist is not satisfied, like the majority of his Free Jazz peers, with massive sound explosions and outpourings bordering on the limits of physical exertion, he also sovereignly masters a repertoire of formula at the opposite end of the scale: that of the delicate and barely audible. What both Bennink and Brötzmann, the big BBs of Free Jazz, can articulate in terms of feeling and nuances of expression, their ability to creatively bring together a world of sound, is not only sheer presence, it is also genial in its quick-wittedness of attitude."

The great dawning of Free Jazz, the delightfully refreshing breaks with Jazz convention which Globe Unity, formed round Alex Schlippenbach or Manfred Schoof's Ensembles, ventured during the sixties and which culminated in a clamorous climax with Brötzmann's Machine Gun performance in the "Lila Eule," Bremen in May 1968 had already achieved a degree of sophistication within a short time. What subsequently came was a forward surging exploration, and above all intensive development of the terrain they had managed to gain over the past years. This continued until the arrival of the Willem Breuker Kollektief in Berlin in 1975 when it struck innovative tones, hereby formally reinforcing the Jazz mode with the ironically recited march music or songs in "La Plagiata," until Irène Schweizer administered her relatively bitter 'Wilde Senoritas" (1976) with female blows of the paw to the Jazz-Fan gentry, until such times as Brötzmann set off on a richly melodic "Schwarzwaldfahrt", sang to tongue-in-cheek "Tschüs" or formed the Grumpff-Ensemble Berlin. Last but not least, "Globe Unity" which began to swing anew in "Bavarian calypso" (1975), flirting for the first time with Thelonious Monk: Ruby my Dear. And did not Brötzmann in collaboration with Fred Van Hove and Han Bennink play the "Einheitsfrontlied" as early as 1973 - paying homage to a spiral which, since the 60s, continued irrepressibly to rotate to the left.

1971 also marked a turning point. The scene was as yet comparatively unrestrained, the musicians' desire to scream still uncurbed - this Han Bennink proved by recurrently surprising his audience with a lion's roar. What Van Hove, however, dared to produce on the piano at the beginning of the 70s - vivacious etudes reminiscent of Chopin or Liszt's escapades on the pianoforte or of Art Tatum's virtuoso mastery and the delicate minimal music phrases spun out by Van Hove- had little more in common with the coarse and colourful cluster technique.

What was then the decisive musical experience in 1971 that gradually but tangibly transformed Free Jazz, a movement that had only just developed an identity? If we observe for instance Van Hove's nine-minute jazz process "Antwarrepe," a sound-tape largely of the three wood-winds which Van Hove counterpoints partially with minimal music formula and partially with mono-tonal accented droplets, it is undeniably the experience of non European music in the form of Tibetan or African brass and wood-wind music which was made possible. Clearly, such sound patterns rapidly become orgiastic, taken up in the style of the "play it kaputt" phase of Free Jazz to be vehemently attacked by the percussion section. Mangelsdorff's "Alberts" sounds over long phrases like that African or South-American steel-drum or xylophone percussion music which so fascinated us at the time.

"The End" by Brötzmann is one of those pieces which, for the most part, owes its spirit to those superlative forms which are over-exerting to the point of self-exhaustion. "Florence Nightingale" on the other hand, is a delightful composition exemplary of a new economy and of the alert inter-reaction among four musicians in August 71 in the Quartier Latin, Berlin: hubristic self-exertion or cautious mutual observation, coming together in duets or holding that phenomenal balance between the temporal layers of the various instruments which New Music in pieces by Nancarrow and Ligetis still tries to reproduce today: the creation of polyrhythmic structures, horizontally layered, simultaneously becoming weightless only to gradually take off into acoustic space. Time becomes space, forgets its temporal being, its chronology. Traditional Jazz, which reshuffled measurable, articulated time with its off-beat phrasing to such a degree that our perception of time began to swing, basically also strived for this. So also the jazz musician who had a vision of several time scales with differing tempi and who then tried to express himself in and through them. These CDs document, in fascinating fashion, that the Quartet formed round Peter Brötzmann succeeded in the year 1971, under the revived sign of Free Jazz, in going far beyond the experience of traditional off-beat phrasing.

Translation: Cristina Crawley

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