Click here to [close]

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Two by Olaf Rupp

By Martin Schray

53-year-old German guitarist Olaf Rupp is a severely underrated musician. When he came to Berlin in the 1990s he met free jazz heroes like Cecil Taylor and Butch Morris and became an important part of the scene there. Later he recorded albums with people as different as Tristan Honsinger, Tobias Delius, Tony Buck, Joe Williamson and Shoji Hano. Rupp’s hallmark is that he plays the guitar in an upright position, reminiscent of Chinese pipa players. This way it’s easier to integrate flageolets, tremolos and arpeggios so as to create overtones and clusters. Today, we’ll look at two of his latest releases.

Xenofox -Hundred Beginnings (Faraj Records, 2016) ****

Xenofox is Rupp’s duo with drummer/percussionist Rudi Fischerlehner, a reduced version of their excellent trio with trombonist Matthias Müller (see a review of their most recent album here). Though they’ve been playing together since 2010, Hundred Beginnings is their debut album, consisting of six tracks, four of them lengthy (between 10 and 21 minutes). The music is intricate, intense and immediate, something achieved without using extremes of dynamics, tempo or timbre, or repetition. Rupp makes discrete use of distortion and echo effects, and sounds both subtle and energetic, something he shares with Fischerlehner, who responds to Rupp’s textures with finely chiseled rim shots and imaginative percussion. When necessary, he can deliver a driving rock groove.

A good example is “HKV 20126“, the longest piece. Rupp and Fischerlehner start with pure sound, scrubbing and scraping their instruments. Rupp bangs the body of his guitar, they navigate step by step, before open chords and sustained notes rebound in different directions. There‘s a dense interplay and often surprising changes in structure and sound – almost complete silence, buzzing, squeaking, chiming percussion, alt rock crescendos à la Sonic Youth and prolonged reverbs.

German jazz critic Felix Klopotek called Rupp’s style “monochrome“ (in a positive way); I‘d describe it as finely grained. Xenofox’s debut is a beautiful album full of filigree detail, unexpected contrasts and varied moods.

Watch the duo live at Kaleidophon, Ulrichsberg:

Listen to a preview of the album here:

Ulrike Brand / Olaf Rupp - Shadowscores (Creative Sources, 2016)

Rupp’s duo with German cellist Ulrike Brand is very different to Xenofox. The cello is often associated with acoustic, rather romantic music, while the electric guitar is the classic rock appendage – a feminine instrument against a symbol of machismo. Thankfully, Brandt and Rupp don’t fall into these stereotypes.  Brand is a well-known interpreter of contemporary classical music (she’s edited books on John Cage and Giacinto Scelsi) and uses the full range of modern techniques, while Rupp barely uses guitar effects or rock chords, apart from on the opening “Rotbuche“. In exploring their instruments’ similarities in sound and color, switching roles, and in modulating and juxtaposing their material, the duo find a common language.

This is clearest in the last two pieces. In “Moorkolk”, Rupp’s guitar takes on the hue of a breathy reed instrument with Brand’s cello providing high-pitched, barely audible notes. It’s like the sound of marshland at night (“Moorkolk“ is German for the water at the center of a marsh). A disturbing and intense piece of music. On “Offenes Geleucht“ (Open Light) Rupp plays open notes against Brand’s continuous vibrato bowing. Ideas echo and bounce between them.

Xenofox is more my kind of thing, but Shadowscores displays Rupp’s versatility and is a fine example of musical empathy.

Watch them live here: