The “Jazzwerkstatt“ (jazz workshop) in the Eastern German small town Peitz was a legend in the former German Democratic Republic. From 1973 to 1982 Uli Blobel and Peter "Jimi" Metag organized concerts and workshops there and via word of mouth the events became something like a Woodstock for fans of free improvised music (it was adventurous to get there if you lived somewhere in the country but sometimes around 3000 people got together to listen to the various concerts). It is fascinating how committed (and naïve) the organizers were and what they achieved – Peitz became a Mekka for musicians from East and West, the line-ups were almost a Who is Who of improvised music. But in 1983 the GDR authorities refused to grant their approval for Jazzwerkstatt Nr. 48.
In 2011 Blobel organized a re-launch of the event which now takes place every year in June. For their 50th anniversary the Jazzwerkstatt label released a 4-CD-set including unreleased material of Jazzwerkstatt Nr. 33 (John Surman, Barre Phillips, Aina Kemanis; Bill Connors and J.-F. Jenny Clark; Joe Sachse Trio), Nr. 40 (Talisker), Nr. 41 (Walter Norris; Uwe Kropinski and Marcio Mattos) and Nr. 45 (Harry Beckett, Harry Miller, Louis Moholo).
The music is partly outstanding. The unusual trio of Barre Phillips (b), John Surman (sax) and Aina Kemanis (voice) is one of these highlights, their performance is of a fragile and wonderful beauty with Kemanis’s lyric free vocals and Surman’s melody lines constantly entwining. Phillips’ bass contrasts them but he is also the mediator between the different approaches of jazz, folk idioms and free bass playing. The other gem is Harry Beckett’s trio with Harry Miller (b) and Louis Moholo (dr) – a rhythm group that could match with William Parker and Hamid Drake. Beckett’s nervous, yet elegant trumpet/flugelhorn playing crashes into this exiled South African groove machine and the result is a hot steaming brew of pure excellent free jazz – Moholo and Miller (his bass line here is a killer) swing like hell!
The other two trios on the fourth CD are also recommendable: Joe Sachse (g), Manfred Hering (ts) and Wolfram Dix (dr) are an unconventional group, their sound is very textural and aggressive, it reminds of Last Exit without a bass player; while Talisker – Ken Hyder (dr), Ted Emmerett (tp), Paul Rogers (b) – represent the classic British 1980s free jazz school.
The first CD focuses on a solo concert by Ornette Coleman companion Walter Norris on solo piano, the music is good average. It is a nice contrast to all the trios in this box. CD 3 presents two guitar/bass duos – Bill Connors/ J.-F. Jenny-Clark and Uwe Kropinski/Marcio Mattos. The first one in particular cannot match the high standards of the aforementioned bands, since Connors’ attempt to integrate Spanish elements into free jazz is not convincing.
All in all this is a nice release at a very reasonable price. The box set also includes the high gloss program of Jazzwerkstatt Nr. 50.
If you speak German I strongly recommend the book “Woodstock am Karpfenteich” (Woodstock at the Carp Ponds). Among others it includes very good articles of the current curator of the Berlin Jazz Festival, Bert Noglik, and German journalist Wolf Kampmann. It also contains a very interesting CD with previously also unreleased stuff by a workshop band including Uli Gumpert, Peter Brötzmann, Johannes Bauer, Harry Miller and Willi Kellers or the marvelous trio Chicago – Wuppertal – Dresden (Leo Smith, Peter Kowald, Günter “Baby” Sommer). The incredible black and white photos are worth every price.