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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thomas Borgmann Trio: One for Cisco (NoBusiness, 2016) ****

By Martin Schray

Saxophonist Thomas Borgmann is a German free jazz veteran, though rather underrated. He’s been on the scene since the early Eighties, and played in a number of bands, such as Boom Box (with Akira Ando and Willi Kellers), BMN (with Wilber Morris and Reggie Nicholson), BMC (with Wilber Morris and Denis Charles), and trios with Borah Bergman and Peter Brötzmann. His most prominent band is Ruf der Heimat, a quartet with Willi Kellers, Luten Petrowsky and Christoph Winckels. There have been some wonderful albums – try Nasty and Sweet and Live in Poland – but he‘s had not played in the US since the turn of the century.

Here, Cisco Bradley comes into play. Bradley, a newly tenured history professor at Pratt Institute in New York, has been running a blog called Jazzrightnow, focused on the Brooklyn improv scene. He's also been organizing a series of house concerts -- New Revolution Arts. In 2015, Bradley invited Borgmann, long-time colleague Willi Kellers (who’d never played in the US) and New York based bassist Max Johnson, and set up a handful of gigs as well as a sax festival at the I-Beam, at which this album was recorded.

One for Cisco is a beautiful album. However, not all free jazz fans rate Borgmann. After a Ruf der Heimat concert the person next to me complained that he had no voice of his own. I don’t agree. His sound is the sum of many styles, integrating different voices to produce a distinct musical personality.

One for Cisco is an excellent example of this. At the beginning of the set Borgmann plays a very romantic solo, a slow blues, vibrato laden, reminiscent of great saxophonists like Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins. He‘s supported by Johnson’s bass lines and dead-on harmonics while Kellers drives the piece forward. In a barely noticeable fashion, Borgmann shifts the mood with bebop lines so that the rhythm section can move away from the groove - a classic Ayler moment –  a propulsive and beautiful free saxophone trio at work.

After a short interruption by a drum solo the band plays another blues melody - melancholic, dramatic, again fully aware of jazz history. At the end of the A side Borgmann uses the soprano and the music gets bumpier and more angular. There‘s then a toy melodica to take us over to the B side, and a simple folk ditty. Kellers strokes his cymbals like wind chimes, echoed by Johnson's a bowed, gentle melody. Here Kellers steers the track in a different direction with a pulsating tom-tom beat to which Johnson replies with dark, scratched lines. Borgmann joins in with a mild-mannered tenor, typical of his understated manner. The trio accelerates, but with a light-footed tone, even when they move into more extreme fields. Borgmann makes sure that there’s always a melody below the free outbreaks, deep down he‘s a great balladeer and the others let him have his way.

Borgmann may not have a prominent signature like Evan Parker or John Butcher, nor is he an iconoclast like Peter Brötzmann, but he has a mature and rich vocabulary. One for Cisco is nice and old-fashioned (in a positive way) and should convince the skeptics.

The album is available as an LP in a limited edition of 300.

You can buy it from there label

You can watch an excerpt of the concert here:


Anonymous said...

just had a look and have to correct a bit:
"Ruf der Heimat" was going for several years also with Rrötzmann

instead of Petrowsky