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Saturday, March 10, 2018

The New Old Luten Project

photo by Christian Hüller
By Martin Schray


When pianist Oliver Schwerdt met the young and energetic drummer Christian Lillinger in 2004 he immediately knew that he now could realize his idea for a band that was supposed to play classic free jazz of the 1960 and 70s. Schwerdt imagined the East German improvisation icon Ernst-Ludwig (Luten) Petrowsky on saxophone and clarinet, because he’s always loved the man’s seminal trio with Klaus Koch on bass and Günter “Baby“ Sommer on drums (once again I can only recommend Selbdritt on FMP). Schwerdt, Petrowsky and Lillinger finally met for the first time in 2006. In 2008 they recorded White Power Blues (Euphorium Records) and in 2009 they had a gig at the Leipziger Jazztage with two bassists (Barre Phillips and Michael Haves). Schwerdt, Petrowsky and Lillinger were pleased with the outcome and in 2011 they decided to continue their work as a quintet, only with Robert Landferman and John Edwards on the basses. Although Schwerdt (in this context he uses the moniker Elan Pauer) initiated the band, the focus is clearly on Petrowsky. He’s the link to the golden age of free jazz, his powerful style sputters off so authentically that according to Schwerdt he’s like “the lead singer in a pop group, always in the foreground of a specific sound space“. From the very beginning, Schwerdt planned to record the full monty, and albums like Tumult! and Krawall! are wonderful intermediate results. The following triptych is the last effort of this outstanding project.

The New Old Luten Trio - Radau! (Euphorium Records, 2017) ****

The trio of Schwerdt, Petrowsky and Lillinger refers back to the beginning of the original idea, a bass-less trio in the tradition of Cecil Taylor’s early Unit with Jimmy Lyons and Sunny Murray. Like the great role model, the trio dives pell-mell into music without metric boundaries, opening a lucky bag of possibilities. Schwerdt is a keyboard dervish, a magician of improvisation. Compared to White Power Blues his playing has become much more sophisticated and refined, more lyrical and percussive at the same time. He makes extensive use of clusters and parallel runs, that’s why the music is very dynamic. Petrowsky’s alto blares against the thunder of Schwerdt’s piano, he indicates the direction of where the improvisation goes. Around the 14-minute mark of “Letzter Radau!“, the only track on the album, Petrowsky throws in blues and bebop riffs just to come up even fiercer and more uncompromising. The whole improvisation is pushed by Lillinger’s drumming, Paul Lovens might be an influence here, especially the toms propel the music relentlessly. The album is another example of his enormous versatility, he’s just the most interesting drummer these days. The last four minutes surprise with a complete break - Petrowsky pulls out his flutes, the track becomes more world-music-like, Lillinger’s bells and Schwerdt’s prepared piano open the door to a different universe.

The New Old Luten Quintet - Rabatz! (Euphorium Records, 2017) ****½

With the addition of two basses (John Edwards and Robert Landferman) Schwerdt, Petrowsky and Lillinger dynamise harmonic dispositions in the improvisation and bow to albums like Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz and Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures. By demonstrating enormous spontaneity and constructionism the quintet proves that the freedom of free jazz does not mean the complete absence of musical organization. The 46-minute “Letzter Rabatz!“ presents the band consciously selecting from a seemingly infinite pool of individual abilities to create musical structures that balance emotion and intellect, energy and form. The two basses are both elemental driving force and mysterious sound texture. The band embodies superhuman velocity and febrile delirium, they’re dissolving musical syntax while re-building it at the same time. Petrowsky ejects lines of a crude beauty and graceful ease. Like on Radau! the last part (about nine minutes) is cut off from the rest of the piece, now Petrowsky is mainly on the clarinet, the band gnarling in the background. Schwerdt puts in a wild barrage of thrillers, the piece swells and ebbs away. Petrowsky abruptly ends it with a single 35-second tone as if he was letting steam off a kettle. What a performance!

The New Old Luten Septet - Remmidemmi! (Euphorium Records, 2017) ****½

The extension to a septet was a side effect from a concert with Axel Dörner (trumpet) and Urs Leimgruber (sax) the following day. Schwerdt says that he was attracted by the idea of two powerplay saxophones for the band since it reminded him of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. He said that he had the idea of Leimgruber as a sort of effect machine for Petrowsky, but of course the Swiss saxophonist is much more than that. Remmidemmi! is different from the very beginning. It starts with a massive bass drone and prepared piano, another sound color is added to the brew, it’s an eerie but meditative note. Dörner's trumpet floats over this ocean of sound, the saxophones scribble into the track and give the command to raise intensity. Lillinger’s role is also different, he bows his cymbals, stressing the fact that the piece is more about sound than rhythm, it’s rather a cacophony of different voices. However, the piece also picks up certain elements from Rabatz! and Radau!, like the piano crescendos that prepare the ground for Petrowsky’s savage excursions. “Letztes Remmidemmi!“ drags itself through the mud, panting, gasping, heavily breathing, but also exuberant with enthusiasm. Once again, the last part is the quietest one, although Lillinger has a little solo here and the intensity is still high. Remmidemmi! is my favorite of this triptych.


These albums are both conclusion and outlook. Unfortunately, it seems like they will be the last with Luten Petrowsky, since he’s really ill and might not be able to perform again (he’s 84 years old and had to undergo a difficult surgery last year). However, Peter Brötzmann replaced him for a gig in Leipzig (bassist John Eckhardt filled in for Robert Landferman) and Oliver Schwerdt said that at least this performance will be released. Maybe there’s even more to come.

Radau! is available as a mini CD, Rabatz! and Remmidemmi! are available on CD. You can buy all three albums from oliverschwerdt +at+ euphorium +dot+ de.