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Alexander von Schlippenbach (Piano) & Dag Magnus Narvesen (Drums)

Soweiso, Berlin. July 16, 2016 Photo by Paul Acquaro

Snakeoil in the Palmengarten 8/4/2016

Tim Berne (as), Oscar Noriega (cl), Ryan Ferreira (g), Matt Mitchell (p) and Ches Smith (perc). Frankfurt, Germany. Photo Martin Schray

Flin van Hemmen Drums of Days 6/18/2016

FvH (piano/drums), Todd Neufeld (acoustic guitar), Thomas Morgan (bass) Firehouse Space, Brooklyn, NY. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Flin van Hemmen - Drums of Days (neither nor records, 2016) ****


By Paul Acquaro

Brooklyn-based, Dutch drummer/pianist, Flin van Hemmen has created a delicate and adventurous album with Drums of Days. His well-disciplined trio is bassist Eivind Opsvik, acoustic guitarist Todd Neufeld, and himself on drums and piano.

The album opens with 'Drums of Days I', van Hemmen on piano, striking open-ended tonal clusters, while Opsvik draws out some long droning tones. Neufeld provides deliberately cool strokes of chord tones, striking hotly on occasion as well. They create an atmosphere fraught with tension and possibility. The follow up 'Morsel!', featuring guest saxophonist Tony Malaby, begins with an eerie whistle and tentative melody played high on the bass. It's short, a bridge to the percussive clatter that ensues in a three-way dialog of 'Dream Tree'. The next big track is 'Aching Arches', which finds van Hemmen back at the piano playing over some taped ambient sound. Two plus minutes into the track, the trio rises again, fragmented chords trail off into silence, the arpeggiated melodies flicker like sparks against the void, as a musical glow begins to appear, then gives way to a spoken section - the poem 'Tide' by musician/poet Eliot Cardinaux - and the words intertwine with the instruments.

The three-part suite 'Sensitive Chaos' is a musical poem of sorts, no strong melody lines, rather an exploration of textures and times. 'Field, Sound' offers more coherent melodic phrases and a stronger pulse, and 'Vorpmi Tsal', is one of the more song-like tracks of the album, and a nice morsel to sink your ears into. Ending with a bright piano refrain, 'Drums of Days II' takes on a solid groove and proves that there is nothing quite like the sound of the classical guitar in avant-garde jazz. The closing track is called 'Ives', and I will go out on the limb to say that it is in some way an homage to the early 20th-century modernist composer. After a long deliberate start, the song opens up into an energetic exchange of ideas, and fitting end to the album.

Drums of Days is a quiet and exploratory album. van Hemmen has created something unique and worth a deep listen.


Available at Downtown Music Gallery.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Nels Cline - Lovers (Blue Note, 2016) ***½


By Martin Schray

When Nels Cline announced his Blue Note debut his fans were excited. How would an album for a major differ from his recent collaborations with Michael Wimberley and Thollem McDonas, White Out or The Nels Cline Singers, all on independent labels?

Cline is possibly the most versatile and interesting guitarist currently working. Among other things he's a member of the alternative rock superstar band Wilco and Rova::Orkestrova, he’s played with Medeski, Martin & Wood and in duos with Thurston Moore and Elliott Sharp. Now, he’s made an album about love.

According to his website:
“I have been dreaming about...my rather obsessive idea of this record for well over twenty-five years, and it was always going to be called Lovers. It is meant to be as personal in its sound and in its song selection as it is universal in its endeavor to assay or map the parameters of “mood” as it once pertained, and currently pertains, to the peculiar and powerful connection between sound/song and intimacy/romance.”
In order to realize this idea, Cline is augmented by a chamber orchestra consisting of some of the most prominent members of the New York avant-garde scene: Devin Hoff, Steven Bernstein, Kenny Wollesen, Zeena Parkins, Erik Friedlander, and many more. The collection includes covers of songs from the great American songbook, more recent composers, and some Cline originals.

Notwithstanding his familiar elegant touch, the first four pieces still raise an eyebrow – mellow and straight, with no edge or irony, sounding like the score to a Fifties movie. Cline admires great jazz guitarists like Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Joe Pass, and Bill Frisell, and although the performances are laid back, possibly a little saccharine, there’s real tenderness in his interpretations. On Jerome Kern’s New Orleans swing number “Why Was I Born?“ or “The Bed We Made“, he has a feathery touch which is beguiling. However, in this first part of the album there already are more ambitious covers, like Jimmy Giuffre’s “Cry Want“ and Gabor Szabo’s “Lady Gabor“. The first one with the orchestra only delivering sound snippets, the second based on a monotonous beat.

The other half of the album takes a different approach, including adaptations of songs by Arto Lindsay, Sonic Youth and Annette Peacock: more offbeat compositions. The arrangements, by Michael Leonhart, are rougher here, sometimes dark and minimal, and Cline’s playing more direct, with glimpses of his crystalline, rock accent. But throughout, the album remains true to the underlying theme, reflecting the differing emotional connections which can make up a romance. Behind an urban jungle groove, Sonic Youth’s “Snare, Girl” brings Thurston Moore’s melody to the fore, played more like a country&western tune, with the orchestra largely absent. It provides a nice contrast to Sammy Fain’s lively “Secret Love“ from the Calamity Jane soundtrack.

The highlight is “The Night Porter/Max, Mon Amour“, joining two songs by Daniele Paris and Michel Portal. They‘re from movies dealing with unexpected romance. The Night Porter is about a sadomasochistic relationship between a Nazi death camp survivor and her tormentor, Max, Mon Amour about the love between a woman and a chimp. The surprisingly beautiful principal tune of the first is interrupted by eerie, mechanistic sounds. The second part’s cool theme eventually wanders astray.

Lovers is both restrained and experimental, with standards and lesser known tunes imaginatively set. Clear your mind, sit back, and enjoy a great collection.

The album is available as a CD and double vinyl.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Roscoe Mitchell - Sustain and Run - Ao Vivo Jazz na Fábrica (Selo SESC SP, 2016) ****



Roscoe Mitchell. Do you really need an introduction to this man? Founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and the Creative Arts Collective. An unrelenting explorer of all aspects of music who is currently the Darius Milhaud Chair of Composition at Mills College. Mitchell’s work stretches across the music spectrum, from solo improvisations to compositions for orchestras around the world. There is a strong argument to be made that Roscoe Mitchell is THE great American composer of the last 50 years.

Sustain and Run - Ao Vivo Jazz na Fábrica is Mitchell’s new solo album recorded live in Brazil in 2013. Right from the start, Mitchell shows a fire-breathing intensity unmatched by most other players. The music is heavy, exploring the more extreme registers of his horn. The name of the album is actually a good description of the music. It is like listening to Mitchell deliver a monologue from Samuel Beckett, the notes and rhythms twist back upon themselves emerging as new ideas that drive the improvisations forward. This is an album that demands your attention, one that won’t allow you to do anything else but listen. It should come with a warning about operating heavy equipment while listening.

A rewarding listen and an excellent addition to the massive Roscoe Mitchell discography. It’s beautiful to see Mitchell is continuing to be this creative after more than five decades.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil - Anguis Oleum (s/r, 2016) ****


By Derek Stone

The last time we heard from the masterful Snakeoil, it was on 2015’s You’ve Been Watching Me, a widely-acclaimed recording that perfectly captured the sizzling, enigmatic energy of Berne’s quartet. Anguis Oleum, their newest release, was originally paired with Berne and artist Steve Byram’s limited-edition collection of drawings and photographs, Spare. Now, it’s available for download on the Snakeoil Bandcamp page, and everyone can get a taste of what this group sounds like when it loosens the reins a bit. Anguis Oleum is not actually a collection of all-new compositions, but a live recording - it contains a couple of pieces that have previously appeared within Snakeoil’s studio output, as well as some unreleased material. As on You’ve Been Watching Me, Snakeoil consists of Berne on alto saxophone, Oscar Noriega on clarinet and bass clarinet, Matt Mitchell on piano, and Ches Smith on percussion. Guitarist Ryan Ferreira is nowhere to be found, unfortunately, but the rest of the players more than makeup for his absence.

The opening composition, “Deadbeat Beyonce,” is one of those that was previously unrecorded. It opens with a lovely run by Matt Mitchell, notes cascading over one another and gradually increasing in both intensity and complexity. After four minutes, the reeds join in with intricate figures that are instantly recognizable as coming from Berne’s compositional toolkit - minor-key, tense, and suggestive of a convoluted system of alleys in a bleak metropolis. As it unfolds, “Deadbeat Beyonce” gives way to a wild fervor; Berne is practically shooting flames from his alto, and Ches Smith pounds with an unbridled force that is particularly striking when compared to the restraint he exhibits at the beginning of the track. Even in their fiercest moments, however, the members of Snakeoil maintain a certain rigidity, a disciplined single-mindedness. The passage through the alleys may be winding, with sudden shifts and unexplained detours, but the destination is clear. At one point, it seems that the piece will close with Mitchell’s twinkling keys and Noriega’s wounded bird-calls, but that’s just a misdirect: the group come together in one last eruption, one that swells, sinks, then swells again, eventually coming to an abrupt close.

“Spare Parts” moves at a slower pace than “Deadbeat Beyonce,” taking its time to develop and stretch out. In the composition’s opening minutes, Ches Smith is on vibraphone, which is admittedly the perfect instrument to accompany the noir-ish sound-worlds that Berne constructs. As Smith taps the vibes and Noriega moves through a series of labyrinthine shapes, one can’t help but re-imagine that shadowy metropolis, steam rising from the gutters and streets perpetually soaked in rain. After some time, Smith is back on the drums, Mitchell comes in with his expressive, dramatic chord-changes, and Berne is blowing with his icy fire - a sound that is simultaneously fervent and frigid, searing and cool. “Lamé 3” is a shorter piece, but it somehow condenses the cinematic scope of the longer compositions into eight minutes - there are twists, turns, unfettered peaks, and trembling moments of tension. Also, some of the players here hit their stride: at one point, Ches Smith abandons all pretensions towards restraint and just pummels his kit. Likewise, Berne engages in a short stretch of insanity that was somewhat surprising at first; instead of that cool reservation that he typically exhibits, he practically screams with his alto saxophone, sending the track into the stratosphere.

“Oc - Dc” is the final piece here, as well as being the longest. Here, the group shows off their marvelous sense of interplay, with an almost lighthearted exchange of notes - melodies that bounce off of each other, diffract, and inexplicably change shapes as the composition moves forward. That lightheartedness is refreshing, especially in the context of Snakeoil; with this group, Berne has primarily delved into tones and textures that are on the “bleaker” side of things, and the pieces can occasionally feel airless. That airlessness is not necessarily a bad thing - in fact, it might be required in order to convey the atmosphere that the group wants us to hear. Thus, despite the fact that many Snakeoil compositions seem to work with “one note” (serpentine, minor-key, filmic), that note is played exceedingly well, and Snakeoil scratch a musical itch that no other groups can. Anguis Oleum is proof that, among Tim Berne’s manifold projects, Snakeoil is the most consistent and the most fully-developed. Now we wait for the studio follow-up to You’ve Been Watching Me!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Three Day A’Larme!

Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Kristoffer Lo
By Martin Schray with a little help from Paul Acquaro

In 2012 Louis Rastig and Karina Mertin launched the first A’Larme! Festival in Berlin, presenting a program of contemporary jazz and improvised music, both radical and polarizing. Free jazz legends met with a younger generation, which has more of an inclination for pop and rock.  There were the old guard: Peter Brötzmann, Sven-Åke Johansson, Irène Schweizer, Han Bennink, and Uli Gumpert, and a younger generation: Mats Gustafsson, Neneh Cherry, Ken Vandermark, Peter Evans and Caspar Brötzmann. The program was praised by both press and audience, and further festivals followed in 2013 and 2015 (in 2014 there was only one concert, which doesn't really qualify as a festival).

This year the festival's tag-line was Inner Landscapes and Unknown Chambers, with an ambitious, diverse and challenging line-up of musicians. Most of the bands were from Europe and there was a focus on string instruments – cellos, harps, guitars and violins –  and the human voice. The program included only few free jazz top dogs like Brötzmann and Gustafsson. Artistic director Rastig’s strategy was to attract a younger, alternative rock audience with an affinity to art, theater, and electronic music, for example: the festival began at the Berghain, Berlin’s legendary techno club (notorious for its stringent bouncers). This year, it was standing room only throughout, familiar from rock festivals where the audience is wedged together.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to attend the first day at the Berghain, and missed Laniakea (with Massimo Pupillo on bass), Arcade Fire violinist Sarah Neufeld and Fire! feat. Oren Ambarchi. Talking to guests who had been there, all the three gigs were described as deafening, a feature of the techno-designed speaker system. As to the music, especially Fire! feat. Oren Ambarchi, it was "wild, energetic and loud" (Peter Gannushkin).

Thursday started with Mohammad, one of the projects eagerly awaited, since their albums Segondè Saleco, Lamne Gastama and Som Sakrifis received favourable reviews. Originally a trio, they were reduced to a duo (Ilios on contrabass and Nikos Veliotis on cello) and looked like a goth-metal band. Most striking of all was the physical presence of the bass, you could feel it vibrate through your whole body. The performance however, was surprisingly stale. There were hardly any changes in the compositions. Emotionally and musically, it was rather boring. About half of the people left the hall.

Luft: Mats Gustaffson and Erwan Keravec
Things could only get better, and Luft (German for “air“), Mats Gustafsson’s duo with Erwan Keravec on bagpipes, had an easier time. After a short passage finding out where the set should go, they were an excellent example of mutual listening and communication. Keravec delivered a spectrum from minimal music to saxophone-like sounds and Gustafsson showed that he is much more than a fire-breather. The third part on tenor was excellent, his circular breathing technique providing an interesting contrast with the bagpipes.

The day closed with Transfer, a project that The Ex’s Andy Moor and Anne-James Chaton have been working on for several years. Situated in an art rock context (including videos) it was musically coherent. But what sense does it make when at least 90 percent of the audience cannot understand Chaton’s spoken word performance (in French)? Subtitles would have been helpful here. Again, many left early.

Joe McPhee was announced to play on the Friday in a trio with Lasse Marhaug and Paal Nilssen-Love but the gig was canceled before the festival started. In any case, Friday was supposed to be the lucky day for the festival, however, the first band was not our cup of tea: The Great Hans Unstern Swindle, a darling of Germany’s alternative magazine Spex, which also supported the festival. The performance was reminiscent of arty farty New Wave, including some slightly pretentious lyrics (“when will burning up cars finally be regarded as street art“).  Maybe we're too petty bourgeois for this kind of music, or maybe it's just a bit old hat – we decided to leave after ten minutes. As with the day before, another false start.

This gig was followed by Seval, which is Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello), Fire! Orchestra’s Sofia Jernberg (vocals), David Stackenäs (acoustic guitar) Emil Strandberg (trumpet) and Patric Thorman (double bass). This was one of the positive surprises of the festival. Lonberg-Holm's compositions are in classic song format, often referring to jazz standards of the 1920s and 30s or modern pop. The songs are given a different spin with off the wall soloing and especially Jernberg's voice, bearing a distinctive timbre. An unusual set.

The day was completed by Trondheim Jazz Orchestra featuring Kristoffer Lo. The orchestra included some prominent names like Thomas Johansson (of Large Unit and All Included fame) and Mette Rasmussen. Again, the music didn’t have much to do with jazz, the compositions were more rock orientated, say Radiohead played by a big band. Nevertheless, the group was in good shape and the performance contained the outstanding moment of the festival: Mette Rasmussen’s enthusiastic alto solo in "Make Fame". The audience freaked out, and even her band members smiled approvingly.

The final day reputedly contained the most promising artists - Peter Brötzmann and Heather Leigh, Anna Högberg Attack! and Sabina Meyer/John Butcher/Matthias Bauer. It started with a solo performance by Berlin-based Israeli bassist Yair Elazar Glotman. He focused on bowing on an amplified double bass, and with the assistance of pedals, he created a series of layers and oscillations which resulted in a trance-like atmosphere. But it became a bit tedious after 15 minutes. Brötzmann followed, the duo with pedal steel guitarist, Heather Leigh - a pairing which has previously proved  reliable. It was an odd performance, however. There were beautiful moments, as when Brötzmann played romantic passages on tarogato, and the last section, with a splendid break on tenor (cut off out as he had to replace his reed). Leigh tended to deliver static phrases and textures, a choice that didn’t seem to fit with Brötzmann. When her playing sounded more like Sonny Sharrock, there seemed a better match. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen often. It was also striking that Brötzmann took a lot of breaks, leaving the field to Leigh. Usually, he steers the performance, but when he took a break he was coughing and seemed unwell. Worrying.

Anna Högberg Attack!
To conclude, there was Anna Högberg Attack! in a smaller hall and Meyer/Butcher/Bauer in the studio loft (limited to 100 people). It’s a concept the festival has established in previous years and it makes sense when the bands play two normal sets so that you can choose whether you want to see both or two sets by the same ensemble. Both groups played 25-minute-sets which cuts matters short just as you’re getting into it. As to the music, Högberg’s band played well, mainly pieces from their very good eponymous album. Högberg (on alto) and Lisa Ullèn (on piano) are excellent musicians.



Bauer, Butcher, and Meyer (l-r)
Mayer/Butcher/Bauer, on the other hand was an entirely new collaboration, and on the fifth-floor space with large floor to ceiling windows looking out over nighttime Berlin, the trio cast an unusually captivating spell.  Though not having performed before as a trio, the three musicians seemed to have quickly found common ground. Vocalist Sabina Meyer stuck to mainly wordless singing, mimicking the instruments at times and at others making the sort of haunting tones only the human voice can. Saxophonist John Butcher alternated between his dazzling command of multiphonics and more traditional playing. Bassist Matthias Bauer, brother to trombonists Conny and the late Johannes, provided a strong backbone as his partners circled and swooped about.

It was disappointing that these two acts, arguably the strongest of the festival, were presented simultaneously as a full set from each would have been deeply satisfying. Regardless, exhausted after three days of concerts, we decided to skip Fovea Hex, the final act of the festival.

In a nutshell, A’Larme! Festival Vol. IV left mixed feelings. Some performances were disappointing, a few were good, and sadly, none were outstanding. Louis Rastig succeeded in attracting a new clientele but he might put off traditional fans of improvised music, not only due to the selection of artists but also because the organizers decided to offer standing room only, which is tiring after a while. This led to a some disturbances during the sets and it was harder to concentrate on the music. Then again, Radialsystem V, the main spot, is a beautiful location. It would be great if there could be another festival next year (as always the organizers have to fight for cultural funding, without which such a festival would be impossible). But it would be nice if they‘d go back to line-ups like first two festivals. And seats. We’re not getting any younger.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

FOR EXAMPLE: Workshop Freie Musik 1969-1978 (FMP, 1978/Destination: OUT, 2016) *****



Martin has already covered the background of the Workshop Freie Musik series in his intro, but I’d like to bring back a few basic details to set the stage, so to speak. WFM started in 1969, the same year FMP released its first album. It ran until 1998, apparently cancelled due to a lack of financial backing. (An aside: I wonder, now that FMP itself has been resurrected for the digital age by Destination: Out if we won’t also soon see the return of both WFM and Total Music Meeting.) FOR EXAMPLE: Workshop Freie Musik 1969-1978 is a previously out-of print, LP-only set documenting 10 years of FMP’s Workshop Freie Musik. The whole set is divided into 3 albums: Nr.1 Soloists, Nr.2 Groups, and Nr.3 Orchestras.

For the collector/completist, it’s a no-brainer, you’re looking at a history of the moment European free jazz came into its own. Then, on the other side of the spectrum, the neophyte, this particular set is also a no-brainer, a one-stop introduction to some of the biggest names in free jazz. And, hey why not, let’s go ahead and make it required listening for everyone in between! What makes this particular set so necessary is the range of both groups and years recorded, in addition to the sheer quality of all performances.

Interestingly, there are no recordings from 1969’s inaugural Workshop. Instead, the earliest recordings come from the 1972 Workshop, well represented by Schlippenbach Trio, Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink with Mangelsdorff, Frank Wright Unit, and Willem Breuker Orchestra. As a snapshot of early ’70s free jazz, these feel so comfortable and familiar, imbued with all the rich nostalgia of a past era, and conjuring what so many think of when you say the words “free jazz.” The tempos are frenetic, the horns wailing, the improvisations simultaneously precise and primal.

Most readers of this blog know the classic trio of Alexander von Schlippenbach, Evan Parker, and Paul Lovens. They’re the only artist here with two tracks, and both are fantastic. “With Forks and Hope” begins with all three in staccato mode, Lovens gradually opening up, as Parker teases out longer, piercing lines. “Then, Silence” contrasts Schlippenbach’s bluesy piano intro with a high, frantic solo from Parker. Later, Lovens breaks in with a swinging rhythm, and Schlippenbach settles into the upper octaves for some wild runs that fade abruptly.

The Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink trio, another classic group, had just released an album with Mangelsdorff on FMP, Live in Berlin ’71. “Things and Stuff” settles into a comfortable rhythm pretty quickly, but the final few minutes are where the group shines, cooling down for some beautiful interplay.  

For Frank Wright, “Chapter Ten” was the start of his work with Alan Silva, making his recorded debut with Wright’s group. This is the group—Wright, Silva, Bobby Few on piano, and Muhammed Ali on drums—that went on to record Center of the World and Last Polka In Nancy?, so this represents one of the truly historic moments captured on this set.

And that leaves the Willem Breuker Orchestra’s five-part “Biannale,” a fifteen-minute tour de force. Breuker’s great skill at arranging these compressed mash-ups is only matched by his group’s ability to pull them off. There’s Weill, of course, and Bach, but most of all there’s Breuker. Anarchic, hilarious, brilliant Breuker. The recording is a bit creaky, however, and there are cuts between each section that don’t seem quite lined up. Nevertheless, these are pretty minor complaints when you consider the scope of the set.

Only one track comes from 1973, and that’s Globe Unity Orchestra’s “Thin in the upper crust,” credited to Brötzmann. It’s a sweeping that sounds almost as if it’s dissolving into a puddle of acid, as it winds down. (In case there’s any doubt, that’s meant as a compliment.) For a Brötzmann piece, there’s an impressive amount of restraint.

There are three tracks from 1974. First, Steve Lacy’s solo performance of “Bone,” from the Tao suite. Lacy opens on a bright, bouncy statement of the melody, eventually gliding into a languid middle section. Schweizer/Carl Quartet’s “Konrad usw.” opens with a fierce solo from bassist Arjen Gorter. About two minutes in, Schweizer and Heinrich Hock join, creating a tense, tightly wound rhythm under Carl’s urgent sax. The piece builds in intensity for eight straight minutes, before a brisk statement ends the piece. And last from that year, an outrageous take on “Tetterettet” from the ICP Tentet. It’s superbly played, humorous, and swinging, everything ICP compressed into 10 glorious minutes.

The real surprise comes from the 1975 sessions: Vinko Globokar’s Brass Group, a group with 11 trombones, a French horn, and tuba. “La Ronde” opens with a tumble of low brass, featuring some extended techniques, that gradually reveals itself to be a call-and-response. The one other track from 1975 is Paul Rutherford “Berl in zil,” a nicely lyrical trombone solo, with Rutherford accompanying himself on piano.

The bulk of the solo performances come from 1976, beginning with Reichel’s otherworldly “Mariahilf.” Fred Van Hove’s “Daar Spelt de Baiaard Weer” is a brief, sparkling solo on prepared piano. Tristan Honsinger performs the phenomenal “I Didn’t Care,” a cello solo juxtaposed with Honsinger’s wordless vocalizations, and Derek Bailey is captured in fine form on “Improvisation 27376.” Just to settle on Honsinger and Bailey for a moment, their solos are of particular historical importance, capturing the cellist and guitarist just after their early duo albums, and about 2 months before Company 1.

The final two recordings, from 1977, are just fantastic. The first, a trombone solo from Albert Mangelsdorff, “Question at Midnight,” begins in a stately and bold fashion that’s gradually undercut by a variety of extended techniques. Mangelsdorff closes out with a humorous and twisted marching refrain. I don’t know what others will think, but the set’s absolute best moment, for me, comes from Johnny Dyani. “Soweto-Simbabwe-Mississippie-Child-Cry” has Dyani on bass, percussion, and his glorious vocals. His is the final track on the Soloists set, as well as the last track, chronologically speaking. It’s a wonderful moment to go out on: when Dyani ends, the crowd bursts into applause.

All minor complaints aside, it’s impossible not to give this set my highest recommendation. As I mentioned, the range of performers and years captured represent some of the highlights of 1970s European free jazz. As I mentioned above, there’s a bit of a nostalgic glow to this era, but FOR EXAMPLE makes a strong case that this is a high water mark in the development of free jazz globally.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

New Jazz Festival Balver Höhle (New Jazz 1974 & 1975) (B. Free, 2016) ****


By Colin Green

In 1974, at short notice, Karlheinz Klüter organised a jazz festival in the unlikely setting of the Balve Cave in the Hönne valley of the Sauerland. A great success, it was repeated in following years. On this mammoth 11 CD box set we have much of the music performed at the first and second festivals, which each ran from Friday to Sunday. The first day was reserved for Hot (trad) Jazz (omitted from the collection) and the weekend for New Jazz, encompassing a broad range of contemporary jazz from Germany and further afield. The resonant but not cavernous, acoustic was vividly captured by Cologne’s WDR – European radio recording engineers are some of the finest in the world. A selection from the festivals was previously available on a 4 LP set (JG-Records, 1975). A handsome booklet is included, with photographs of performers and audience, and press cuttings from the time, some with English translations.

Most of the pieces are named “Improvisation”, and although there are many different kinds of improvisation to be heard, I suspect this is simply the default title where none has been supplied, or it is unknown. There are some errors and quirks: for CD5, what are listed as tracks 6 to 8 are in fact tracks 1 and 2 on CD6; The Contact Trio’s set is a single track, but is clearly five separate pieces, and the several numbers that made up the Gary Burton Quintet’s performance are arbitrarily divided into three tracks. Some, though not all, of the spoken introductions to each set are separately banded, and the booklet contains a photo of a bald vibes player, named as Gary Burton but I’m sceptical, unless his toupee had fallen off.

Presented chronologically by day (though not in the original batting order) and musically, of a high standard throughout, the collection offers a snapshot of sorts, and a reminder of the healthy scene which had developed in West Germany at the time. The audiences are large and enthusiastic, sounding more like a rock gig than the usual smatter of polite handclaps which greet performers of free jazz. For obvious reasons, German youth had rejected anything associated with the culture of their parents in more definitive terms than elsewhere in Europe, resulting in a surge of interest in alternative music, much of which they were able to enjoy due to their parents’ post-war prosperity.

We open with the Contact Trio – Evert Brettschneider (electric guitar), Alois Kott (double bass), Michael Jüllich (drums) – a reminder that at this point in the Seventies, Jazz-Rock was still a potent force. They differ from a number of the fusion bands of the era however, being more loosely knit. The nimble guitar work and dexterous bass are virtuosic, but lack the frantic pyrotechnics and showboating others indulged in. This is an ensemble which sounds more fluid and satisfying.

Also from the fusion end of the scale is the Dutch keyboardist Jasper van’t Hof’s Pork Pie, a multinational band which also includes Americans Charlie Mariano (reeds, woodwind) and John Lee (electric bass), the Belgian Philip Catherine (electric guitar) and Italian Aldo Romano (drums). This is fusion made up from a wide range of ingredients, as can be heard on the forty minute main track, a succession of contrasting compositions which merge one into the next. Highlights include Mariano’s beautiful soprano saxophone over lush synthesizer and when he picks up the Nadaswaram, a huge Tamil wind instrument (there’s a photo in the booklet). There are some Mahavishnu moments: mid-tempo and melodic rather than speed of light blurs. The set ends with a cod-march, and generous applause which eventually brings the band back for a bluesy encore.

Gary Burton’s Quintet has Mick Goodrick and a very young Pat Metheny sharing guitar duties, and they open with Metheny’s ‘Phase Dance’, an early sign of the sweetly drawn vistas of Americana that would become his speciality. As often with live performances, there’s plenty of drive and bite but this doesn’t always benefit the music. There’s an out of place fuzz-bass solo from Steve Swallow, and at times it feels somewhat crowded, music better suited to a quartet – there’s no need for an extra guitar. The full melodic range of Burton’s vibraphone, with his subtle inflections and embellishments, is heard most clearly in his solo pieces during the set, a reminder that his music worked best in more intimate surroundings and without a drummer, such as his chamber pieces and duos with Chick Corea.

Jazzcrew Stuttgart provide an outstanding set, exhibiting an ability to move seamlessly between various points on the jazz compass.  The Septet consists of Herbert Joos and Frederic Rabold (flugelhorn, trumpet), Walter Hüber (soprano and tenor saxophones), Bernd Konrad (bass saxophone), Paul Schwarz (keyboards), Jan Jankeje (double bass) and Martin Bues (drums). In the second improvisation there’s a delicate brass chorus which alternates with weightless free passages The third and fourth pieces blend punchy rhythms, big band unisons, free jazz blowouts and blues hollers, and there’s a blistering bass sax solo. The electric piano, an instrument often reduced to textured tinkles, is nuanced and expressive, and even the drum solo bears repeated listening.

From Britain, we have SOS, three master saxophonists: John Surman, Mike Osborne and Alan Skidmore, sounding like nothing the audience would have heard before. In addition to spanning the whole choral range (soprano, alto, tenor and bass saxophones) there’s also Surman’s then innovative use of an EMS synthesizer which contained a small sequencer allowing loops to be stored, repeated and transposed, a method he explored further on his later albums for the ECM label. Surman had learnt this technique while working with Groupe de Recherche Choregraphique de l'Opera de Paris, writing contemporary dance music. These cyclic repetitions still sound startling as they fade in at the outset and are used to great effect in the first few numbers. They clearly inspired the structure of the trio’s music, a dense contrapuntal weave of expanding and contracting patterns, in unison and overlapping, which owe more to Renaissance polyphony than standard jazz, and take as their starting point material as diverse as a folk jig and a calypso melody. There is room for jazz however, including a scorching passage on alto from Osborne, backed by Skidmore’s surprisingly adept drumming and Surman’s fuzzy keyboards. Fittingly, though listed as “Improvisation 4’ the encore’s an arrangement of the Contrapunctus from Bach’s ‘Die Kunst der Fuge’ (The Art of Fugue). The trio recorded its eponymous and only album the following year (Ogun, 1975) with Surman laying down his electronics at an earlier session (recommended).

Moving on to the free jazz side of things, there’s the combustible mix of Peter Brötzmann (reeds), Fred van Hove (piano) and Han Bennink (drums, bits and bobs). Proceedings are announced with Bennink’s military march rolls, sounding like he’s approaching the stage from the audience, turning deviant with van Hove’s pounding chords and Brötzmann’s shrieking clarinet. Bizarrely, Bennink begins the second piece in the same way but Brötzmann puts a stop to this with his angry tenor, and we move into the skewed universe the trio seemed to occupy, the only connecting thread being the kinetic energy with which they blasted through everything in sight – van Hove’s cluster runs, Brötzmann’s out of range reeds, Bennink on howling hosepipe (one of his favourite devices) and clattering drums – a mixture of standard trap kit and more exotic percussion – which booms round the Cave, to the approval of the audience. Amongst this mayhem, Bennink never misplaces a beat. There’s plenty of parody: bar room songs, flatulent and fragmented ballads on bass saxophone, etc. but the problem is, quite intentionally, a lot of this can’t be taken seriously, it no longer shocks, and it’s difficult to laugh. The spectacle of three very talented men spending most of their time on stage fucking about is something you really had to be there for. The raucous crowd certainly enjoyed it.

The set by the Dieter Scherf Trio – Scherf (saxophone), Jacek Bednarek (double bass), Bulent Ates (drums) – is a gem, again consisting of two improvisations but banded as one. Scherf had been a member of Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden, which had recorded the two legendary Frictions albums, and who appeared at the 12th German Jazz Festival in 1970 (reviewed by Paul yesterday). This trio hums with carefully modulated energy and sounds so fresh it could have been recorded last week. There are traces of Coltrane in Scherf’s treatment of melody but he’s a good example of a musician who’s absorbed his influences in order to develop something new. Bednarek plays mostly bowed bass, and his contributions are telling. The trio (with Paul Lovens replacing Ates on drums) recorded Inside-Outside Reflections (LST, 1974) that year, a set of focussed studies and also outstanding. It’s a great pity we don’t have more of Scherf’s work on record.

From Holland, there’s ICP’s Misha Mengelberg (piano) and Han Bennink (drums, anything else to hand). The duo specialised in anarchic dramas juxtaposing often incongruous genres (the Dutch have always had a thing about Dada). In the aptly titled ‘Suite’ motifs are rendered in the style of ragtime, silent cinema, Kurt Weill, atonal clusters, free jazz, and points between. It’s obvious from the applause and laughter that Bennink’s up to his usual tricks, but deprived of a visual element the cabaret routine loses its sense of irreverent fun. Both musicians are technically outstanding and full of invention but there are times when the music sounds like a succession of skilfully executed caricatures, contrived rather than organic. To contemporary ears, now familiar with this kind of post-modernist pastiche, trying on different headgear can seem rather old hat. As one would expect, their live performances were a bit hit and miss, but the studio recordings are well worth seeking out.

The Polish Jazz Summit is listed in the booklet as comprising Tomasz Stanko (trumpet), Zbigniew Namyslowski (saxophone, cello), Zbigniew Seifert (violin), Adam Makowicz (electric piano) and Janusz Stefanski (drums), though it’s clear that the piano’s not electric but the, by now, rather out of tune festival piano, and I’m sure I can hear an unidentified bass player. Their performance starts well with one of Stanko’s mournful dirges, dissolving into excellent solos from piano, saxophone and trumpet. Things become disappointing when Namyslowski switches to cello and there’s a string duet. Both instruments are poorly amplified (the violin with wah-wah pedal) and sound hollow and scratchy, losing their distinctive timbres, and the occasional folksy turns are insufficient to retain any real interest as the piece loses its flow and wanders vaguely to a conclusion.

What is billed as the “Franz Koglmann Quintet - Steve Lacy Quintet” is in fact, one quintet, which had recorded the fine Flaps (Pipe Records, 1973) the previous year, and they open with that Lacy composition. From the outset, Lacy (soprano saxophone) and Koglmann (trumpet) dissect and reconfigure tiny melodic cells, their incisions set against a counterfoil of tumbling bass (Toni Michlmayr) and drums (Muhammad Malli), and blurts, whooshes and swirls from Gerd Geier’s computer and electronics. During the central free form pieces, what resembles the soundtrack to Forbidden Planet forms a contrast to Koglmann and Lacy’s multiple refractions, but elsewhere, such as the opening chorale to ‘Der Vogel, Opium’, the electronics sound intrusive. The Quintet closes with Lacy’s ‘Life on its Way”, a hypnotic repetition of a descending four note figure, fading into electrostatic spluttering.

The collection from the second festival weekend doesn’t contain any German musicians. It would seem that some performed but there were contractual wrangles and late cancellations, and the Howard Johnson Tuba Ensemble didn’t appear as the money for their flight from America didn’t arrive on time. Although good, 1975 is not of the same standard as the previous festival.

From Czechoslovakia, there’s System Tandem, the duo of Jiri Stivin (reeds and woodwind) and Rudolf Dasek (guitar) who play a varied set of seven ‘improvisations’ with Stivin switching between soprano and alto saxophones, flute and piccolo, in a mixture of folk, jazz and rock. Clearly buoyed by the festival crowd, there are times when Dasek’s choppy guitar can get a little wearing.

Also from Czechoslovakia is the Gustav Brom Big Band (for some reason, labelled “The Brom Gustav Big Band” in the booklet) which might seem out of context in these surroundings, but if you couldn’t get to see Count Basie this would definitely do, and the audience laps it up. In fairness, there’s more to the band than that and ‘Suite for Gustav Brom’ is nicely varied, a colourful piece of orchestration with even occasional interspersions of free jazz.

The final Slavic contribution is from the Emil Viklický Trio, a piano trio which plays a short set, possibly in protest at the piano which sounds like it’s been borrowed from the local village hall, and is unimproved from the previous festival. This is unfortunate as the Bill Evansish ‘Choral’ is a lovely piece and František Uhlíř displays some delightful bass work.

The Krzysztof Zgraja - Barre Phillips duo is the unusual combination of flute and double bass, instruments from the top and bottom of the range, a format with which Zgraja was familiar having recorded an album of bass duets with a different bassist in Warsaw the previous year: Alter Ego (Polskie Nagrania Muza, 1974).Their improvisations are sectional, marked by changes of pace and texture, each focussing on particular techniques and timbres, juxtaposed and merging. As ingenious as the duo are, there’s not quite enough to support two half-hour improvisations.

Turning to Scandinavia, from Sweden there’s the Jan Wallgren Orkester, a quintet of Wallgren (piano), Tommy Koverhult (soprano and tenor saxophones, flute), Hakan Nyqvist (flugelhorn), Ivar Lindell (bass) and Ivan Oscarsson (drums). They play what might be described as polished and extremely accomplished post-bop, and nothing wrong with that. The main work is ‘Love Chant’, a piece the quintet had recorded two years earlier and which Wallgren was to subsequently re-record with a different line-up. Even at forty minutes and with extensive solos, including Wallgren’s exhilarating flourishes, this performance sustains interest throughout and is probably the version to have.

Finally, from distant Finland, there’s the Eero Koivistonen Quartet, who travelled a long way to play another short set of just over twenty minutes, assuming the collection contains everything they played. Again, I’d like to have heard more. This is the kind of sparse Euro-Jazz ECM specialised in at the time. ‘Clear Dream’ sets the scene with an opening duet for Olli Ahvenlahti’s rhapsodic piano and Koivistonen’s lean soprano saxophone, and there’s a pensive double bass solo from Pekka Sarmanto.

Apparently, though there were further jazz festivals at the Cave, the quality could not be maintained, so it’s especially valuable to have this extensive record of just how good things got.

In the absence of any live footage, here’s a video of someone opening and fumbling about with the contents of the box set:

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Born Free: The 12th German Jazz Festival (B. Free, 2015) ****½


By Paul Acquaro

It was during my reading of Trevor Barre's book on the history of free jazz in London that I first heard of Born Free - a three LP release documenting the 12th German jazz festival in Frankfurt in 1970. The festival’s program was nearly all free jazz and was described by Barre as a milestone in his journey toward the free and avantgarde. Of course I needed to know more, but trolling about the Internet only revealed that the record was a true rarity.

Then, magically, along comes this expansive 9 CD box set with over 10 hours of music, essentially all of the music recorded at the festival. This is a massive set of music that comes in a heavy duty box, sporting the original cover, with the CDs mounted on extremely sturdy cardboard inserts. Included is a 32 page book mostly with pictures and the original press clippings (in German). Popping the first CD off the mount and into the stereo, the quality of the music is immediately obvious.

The festival big band that starts the show and the following tracks by the Dave Pike Set are fantastic. The big band features trumpeter Manfred Schoof, trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, and guitarist Volker Kriegel, among many others. If you are familiar with German musicians, these names probably come as no surprise. The group's spirited arrangements give way to big-band free playing, and by track three, you get a full taste of the delicious mayhem found in the precarious balance of freedom and structure. Vibraphonist Pike's group, also featuring Kriegel, is like a European echo of Gary Burton's work at the cusp of the 70s.

The following disc captures groups led by Mangelsdorff and another huge name in German jazz, keyboardist Wolfgang Dauner. The trombonist's quartet plays an exciting free set that sounds as fresh today as it did 46 years ago. Dauner's group with trombonist Peter Herbolzheimer and woodwindist Gerd Dudek offers a rather swinging affair, and features the early synthesizer the clavinet, tempered by the ever sumptuous ring modulator.

Discs 3 - 6 contain some excellent performances by both better and lesser known musicians. One highlight is the set by Phil Woods and his European Rhythm Machine. The alto player's band consisted of bassist Henri Texier, drummer Daniel Humair and pianist Gordon Beck. Woods, though known for more straight ahead playing at the time, was experimenting with free jazz and fusion, and to my ears, with great musical success. A nice surprise is some of the lesser known names like the Frankfurter Trio für Improvisation - just bass, clarinet, and flute delivering a light and accessible, heavily improvised set, and "Just Music", who are the opposite - a sextet whose dark tones flow from the strings and agitated lines tumble from the horns. The Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden comes out swinging hard on disc 6 with a fiery performance mixed with dense textural playing. The group Limbus closes out the disc offering some quieter moments with some prototypical world music moments. All are great to (re)discover after so many years.

Disc 7 finds us in the company of the heavy weights again: saxophonist Peter Brotzmann with Evan Parker and Willem Breuker on reeds, Malcolm Griffiths and Paul Rutherford on trombone, Derek Bailey on guitar, and Han Bennink on percussion. They perform 'Fuck Der Boere', which was released in 2001 by Atavistic as tracks on the album of the same name. It's a classic performance and it is interesting to hear it in the context of all the other groups. Still very much timeless: the distorted guitar lines, the vibrant brass work, and of course the leaders own patented sound, make it a standout. The closing tracks from Manfred Schoof's trio appears at the end of the disc, and the lean bass, drum and trumpet trio provides a nice contrast to the previous track. Schoof's playing is as poignant as ever - cue up about 10 minutes through the track for some thrilling cadenzas.

CD8 is another standout, it features a set by an early incarnation of the Alexander Von Schlippenbach Trio with Michel Pilz on saxophone and flute and Paul Lovens on drums. The 27 minute track kicks off with the pianist and drummer in duet until the saxophone appears with a meteoric rise to places beyond. Next is drummer Pierre Favre's group, with saxophonist Trevor Watts, guitarist/trumpeter Jürg Grau and pianist Irene Schweizer, and it’s another treat. A Coltrane-like arc from Watts kicks things off, but soon they move into strong pulse driven free improvisation with some heavy guitar work! Closing out the CD is the quartet of the legendary Kuhn brothers, Joachim and Rolf, who play an acoustic set with a particular anthem like feel.

Finally, CD9 is the festival closer and it features a long track that features saxophonist Gunter Hampel augmented by the wordless vocals of Jeanne Lee. This set takes a while to really kick into gear, emphasis is placed on the vocals and sound textures, but around the mid-way point, the sound of the group seems to expand, though a cohesive piece never emerges. The follow up, and closing set, is where we find the European musicians joining the Art Ensemble Of Chicago. The track is entitled "Getting to Know you All" per the album notes, however, Lester Bowie, in his rambling introduction, explains that original title - after meeting and playing with the Germans, and feeling the vibe of the people - he extended the composition and called it  "Germany Unite" - a political statement delivered by an unbelievable roster:
Alto Saxophone – Dieter Scherf, Joachim Kühn, Michael Thielepape; Baritone Saxophone – Roscoe Mitchell; Bass – Klaus Bühler, Malachi Favors Maghostut, Peter Stock; Bass Clarinet – Gunter Hampel; Drums – Rainer Grimm; Flugelhorn – Herbert Joos; Guitar – Gerhard König; Tenor Saxophone – Alfred Harth, Gerd Dudek, Heinz Sauer, Joseph Jarman; Tenor Saxophone, Flute – Axel Hennies; Trombone – Albert Mangelsdorff, Günter Christmann, Paul Rutherford; Trumpet – Manfred Schoof, Michael Sell; Trumpet [Pocket Trumpet] – Frédéric Rabold; Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Lester Bowie; and Vocals – Jeanne Lee, Karin Krog.
Billed as the European Free Jazz Orchestra Of The Art Ensemble Of Chicago – the set is a slow boil of emotion and melody. The intensity ebbs and flows, as full ensemble free playing section leads to an almost silent passage of micro-tones, then to an extended vocal section. Though the wordless vocals do not sit so well with me, the song is a powerful end to the concert and worth a close listen.

This is a treasure trove of music, at once historic and at the same time sounding very much alive! While bits and pieces and versions of the festival have been floating around for years - officially and otherwise - it's nice to have this archival box set, if you can find it.

Authors note: around the time of writing this review, at a small but deeply stocked record store on Boxhagener Platz in Berlin, a copy of the original LP hung tantalizing out of reach. I dared not ask the price.

See the Discogs listing.

Monday, August 15, 2016

International Holy Hill Jazz Meeting 1969 (BE! Jazz, 2014) ***½


By Martin Schray

In 1969, in the heyday of the hippy era, Meno Liechtenstein organised a jazz festival at the Heiligenberg (Holy Hill) Thingstätte, a location in the form of an amphitheatre which the Nazis had used for rallies and solstice festivals (the mystic side of the Third Reich, trying to tap into folklore roots). It‘s therefore symbolic and ironic that it would subsequently be used for a festival of Entartete Musik (degenerate music).

The festival’s line-up presented some of the cream of the German jazz scene plus international guests. The first part of the selection highlights some of the new European free jazz stars, beginning with a piece by the Swiss/German Pierre Favre Trio – Favre (dr), Irène Schweizer (p) and Peter Kowald (b). The trio, which released the marvelous Santana on FMP in the same year, are impressive. Schweizer unleashes high-speed salvos which the great Kowald wraps in angular, hectic bowing. Beneath the expressionist surface “Let’s Talk About the Weather“ reveals a wonderful subtlety.

This exciting opening is followed by the Rolf Kühn Quartet with Kühn on electric clarinet, his brother Joachim (p), Buschi Niebergall (b) and Stu Martin (dr, perc, fl). “Circus Live“ opens with a Middle Eastern melody, then gets lost as the drums shift to a polyrhythmic groove, and Rolf Kühn goes wild. The band seemed to have a lot of fun playing, the Middle Eastern elements continue to predominate throughout the improvisations, and in the final section Joachim Kühn’s playing steers the quartet into a choppy free jazz storm. This sounds a little surprising as nowadays, the Kühn brothers chart more conventional waters. This is true of a number of musicians of the time, who explored free jazz but later tended to shun experimental music, possibly due to financial considerations or merely because they wanted to move on.

The central and longest performance is given by Peter Brötzmann’s Octet with Brötzmann (ts), Evan Parker (ts, ss), Paul Rutherford (tb), Fred Van Hove (p), Buschi Niebergall (b, b-tb), Peter Kowald (b), Arjen Gorter (b) and Pierre Favre (dr). Although the sound is not the best due to the three basses sounding too far back, you get an impression of the fierce and almost brutal impact of this band. Brötzmann sounds like an angry beast and Van Howe and Favre push the others relentlessly forward. A piece in the best “Machine Gun“ tradition.

The second part of the album is modern jazz, such the Joe Viera/Ed Kroeger Quartett - Sigi Busch (b), Heinrich Hock (dr), Joe Viera (as, ss), and Ed Kroeger (tb) - and the Joki Freund Quintett with Toni Rabold (tp), Joki Freund (s, ss), Helmut Kirchgässner (p), Peter Witte (b) and Jörg Gebhard (dr), the latter represented by two compositions. The Viera/Kröger Quartett plays music at the interface of bebop and free jazz, and the trombone/sax duel is intense and forceful. Freund’s quintet is clearly indebted to Miles Davis’ quintets of the 1950s and 60s, “Five to Five“ is an elegant and impulsive mid-tempo piece, with a tight rhythm section. The performance takes a traditional head/solo/head form with beautiful solos by Kirchgässer and Rabold. “Gluga Gluga Blues“, an uptempo number, is the more ambitious composition but can‘t quite match “Five to Five“.

Finally there‘s a solo performance by Marion Brown (as), who pays tribute to John Coltrane with a two-minute solo laying out Coltrane’s typical sounds and modal scales. But it’s only a short finger exercise.

The original LP was a bootleg, with sound to match. For this new edition the original tapes have been used, providing an improved sound, albeit only acceptable by today’s standards.

As far as I know this was the only time such a festival was held at Holy Hill. Today, people gather there for Walpurgis Night to light bonfires and generally, have a good time.

International Holy Hill Jazz Meeting 1969 is available as a double LP, or single CD.

Once again a big thanks goes to Ernst Nebhuth for a lot of valuable background information.

German Jazz Festivals - An Introduction


By Martin Schray

This week we’ll be reviewing music from German jazz festivals spanning 1969 to the present, concluding with a review of a recent festival.

Considering the role of jazz in postwar West Germany is of interest, both musically and culturally. There are few publications on the development of jazz in the early years: for most West Germans jazz (and later Rock’n’Roll) was still regarded as “Negermusik“ (the music of the negroes), a pejorative term. Even among fans, its image was rather lowbrow. In contrast, jazz is now a diverse and sophisticated art form associated with cross-cultural understanding, improvisation, free expression, the integration of world music and other ideals central to the cultural identity of a reunited Germany. The reasons for this transformation can be seen in the musical evolution of jazz itself together with broader changes in (especially West) German society and culture.

In the 1950s people like "jazz pope" Joachim-Ernst Berendt tried to establish jazz as a serious musical art form, on the same level as classical music. He introduced jazz at the Donaueschingen Music Days, a stronghold of the postwar classical avant-garde. Setting up pure jazz festivals also played an important role. The first was 1953’s Deutsche Jazzfestival in Frankfurt, presented as a showcase for the best German jazz musicians, during the 1950s every important German jazz musician played at the festival. It was a perfect symbol of “Wirtschaftswunder“ (the economic miracle) when Germans tried to put aside the Nazi years and enjoy the results of their new prosperity. European jazz mainly imitated the American scene and there were few genuinely original contributions. It was only in the 1960s that Europeans began to distance themselves from such role models: Peter Brötzmann’s trio had its breakthrough in Frankfurt in 1966. In retrospect, the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s can be seen as the "golden age" of German free jazz. The 12th Frankfurt festival had an almost complete free jazz program: even the festival big band played it as a homage to the younger generation. [1]

In the 1960s and 70s young Germans, seeing that former members of the Nazi party still occupied high ranking political, commercial and judicial posts, rebelled against the values of their forefathers and demanded a proper re-evaluation of the Nazi period. The evolving free jazz scene reflected these social developments with the concept of “blowing to pieces“ (a term coined by Peter Kowald) to create something new, distanced from the values of the previous generation.

In 1964 Nicolas Nabokov, the director of the Berliner Festwochen, a cultural festival of film, art, literature, theater and music, approached Joachim-Ernst Berendt to organize a jazz festival. Originally planned as a one-off, Jazzfest Berlin was a great success, prompting Berendt and his collaborators, Ralf Schulze-Bahrenberg and George Wein (the Newport Festival impresario), to approach the Berlin city council to set up a permanent independent jazz festival. It still has a reputation for bringing the avant-garde and traditional together, and has played a major role in establishing jazz as part of German culture. The essential question facing the German jazz community however, was no longer whether jazz was art, but how it could make its own significant contribution. In 1966 Berendt commissioned a work from Alexander von Schlippenbach, who brought together the crème de la crème of the young German jazz avant-garde and presented “Globe Unity“, a piece which was fiercely rejected and praised by both audience and press. It was a landmark for German free jazz, symbolizing the emancipation of the improvising scene.

When Peter Brötzmann was uninvited from the Jazzfest in 1968, he and his fellow musicians from FMP (Free Music Productions) founded the Total Music Meeting and a year later the Workshop Freie Musik. The Total Music Meeting was an international annual festival for improvised music, an alternative to the Jazzfest (though free jazz musicians have continued to play there as well). The plan of the organizers, centered on Jost Gebers, was to present contemporary developments in improvised music. This was even more successfully realized in the Workshop Freie Music. As Gebers put it:
In 1970 the three day event (of the first workshop) turned into a five-day workshop with public rehearsals, two stages in the exhibition hall (of the Berlin Academy of Arts) and a dyed-in-the-wool free jazz program. Now this showed that our first attempt to take this kind of music out of the concert halls and the clubs into more open spaces was the right way. The constraints of the musicians and the audience could thus be considerably reduced. We adhered to this concept until 1972. But also in this area there were considerable misunderstandings. Musicians and groups who wanted to return to close concerts with a predetermined course of events from the open form of the workshops, groups from the audience who wanted to play along with or against things. (…) However, both sides, the musicians and the listeners began to make better use of the possibilities.
In the following years Gebers focused on single instruments and commissioned works for larger ensembles, but stuck with the festival’s workshop character. [2]

In the early 1970s radio stations also played an important role. In 1966, Joachim-Ernst Berendt had established the Free Jazz Meeting Baden-Baden (later, the New Jazz Meeting Baden-Baden) organized by SWF, a station in the South West of Germany (now SWR). There were public concerts and rehearsals, commissions, and broadcasts of sometimes up to 400 minutes of music. An extraordinary example is the recording of the Globe Unity Orchestra in 1975, parts of which are available as an FMP CD. There were also lengthy broadcasts by Radio Jazz Group Stuttgart (led by Wolfgang Dauner), featuring a variety of performers from the European free jazz scene. (Many of these unreleased broadcasts are available in the archives of Inconstant Sol.)

It was a time when the public was generally willing to fund festivals of free music, and there was an enthusiastic audience. Other important festivals that were established were the Moers Festival, the short-lived Holy Hill in Heidelberg, several festivals in Wuppertal (e.g. in the Von der Heydt Museum with Brötzmann as co-organizer and the Wuppertal Free Jazz Workshop). Later there were “360 ° - Spielraum für Ideen“, “Grenzüberschreitungen“ (curated by Peter Kowald) and festivals at Burg Altena and Balver Höhle (a cave near Iserlohn), both in the Sauerland region, east of Cologne. From 1972, the Moers festival, organized by Burkhard Hennen, was a showcase for free jazz, at which Alexander von Schlippenbach, Peter Brötzmann and Manfred Schoof played a major role. From the outset, Moers had an international orientation, which continues to this day.

Burg Altena and Balver Höhle were smaller but equally interesting festivals, organized by Heinz Bonsack and Karl-Heinz Klüter respectively. Bonsack, a dentist, wanted to push new music like Krautrock and free jazz, and also promoted musicians from Eastern Europe. The line-ups were exciting, people like Tomasz Stanko, Joachim Kühn and Manfred Schoof played at Altena between 1969 and 1974. A festival with a spectacular line-up was cancelled in 1975, as the city council didn’t want to guarantee minimum salaries for the musicians, which more or less put an end to the festival. Klüter, who‘d also been involved in the Altena festival, had already left and established Balver Höhle, and with his existing contacts managed the festival in the cave as a one man show, even serving at the bar. Notwithstanding the absence of public funding he was able to engage bands like Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink, the Franz Koglmann/Steve Lacy Quintet, and vibraphonist Gary Burton, as well as continuing Altena’s theme of musicians from behind the iron curtain. The focus subsequently shifted to more mainstream music and there were no more festivals after 1984.

So, in more than 60 years of German jazz festivals, jazz has both mirrored and made its own contribution to changes in German society and culture. Now, it’s widely accepted as an art form (“Negermusik“ has been banished), even if perceived as not being on quite the same level as classical music. But in times when cultural funding has been dramatically cut, there are hardly any festivals devoted entirely to free jazz in Germany. In the last four years Louis Rastig, Conny Bauer’s son, has run the A’Larme! Festival in Berlin, which takes place in July/August. And there’s Jazzwerkstatt Peitz, the legendary festival from the former GDR, revived by Ulli Blobel, one of its original organizers. [3] The only festival that has survived is Moers, which recently moved to a new, modern festival hall. The 2016 festival could only take place with a generous grant from the city of Moers. To slightly misquote Nesushi Ertegun, there‘s no money in free jazz. The future of all these festivals is insecure.

- Much thanks to Ernst Nebhuth for providing valuable information on the history of jazz festivals in Germany.

[1]  From then on the idea of the Frankfurt Jazz Festival was to encourage the German scene to play with American musicians; the festival still exists today and is therefore the oldest continuing annual jazz festival in Germany (save that between the 1960s and 1980s there was a period when it was organized biannually).

[2]  For a complete overview of the WFM and the TMM check these websites: 
[3]  Peitz would deserve an article of its own. If you want to get an idea what happened there, you could read  an article about a CD with various artists from the festival or - if you read German - I strongly recommend the book “Woodstock am Karpfenteich“