Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink: Einheitsfrontlied 7‘ (2012; orig. released: 1973)
Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink: Tschüss (2011; orig. released: 1975)
Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink: Balls (2011; orig. released: 1970)
Brötzmann/Bennink: Ein halber Hund kann nicht pinkeln (2011; orig. released: 1977)
Brötzmann/Bennink: Schwarzwaldfahrt (2012; orig. released: 1977)
Brötzmann/Miller/Moholo: The Nearer the Bone, the Sweeter the Meat (2012; orig. released: 1979)
Manfred Schoof: European Echoes (2013; orig. released: 1969)
Alexander von Schlippenbach Septet: The Living Music (2013; orig. released: 1969)
By Martin Schray
Recently I was at Ratzer Records in Stuttgart, my favorite record store for alternative rock, folk, country etc. There was another customer who was buying the new Ceramic Dog album and we got into a conversation in which he told me that in 1977, when he was 16, a friend talked him into a concert of the Globe Unity Orchestra. He said that he was so fascinated by this band that he immediately sold all his Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin records, because rock suddenly sounded so boring to him (that went on for three years, he continued).
Now imagine you were such a young person and – let’s say - you preferred vinyl to CDs. Now you discovered free jazz because you came across –for example – John Zorn’s Electric Masada or Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet. You even find a lot of stuff but then you want to dig deeper and soon you find out that a lot of the great seminal albums are not available anymore unless you pay fantasy prices for second hand copies. Here the Austrian Cien Fuegos label comes into play. Maybe Konstantin Drobil (the man behind Cien Fuegos) was such a young man (at least he feels with them), he definitely wanted to listen to this music, he wanted to make it available for almost everybody who is interested in it.
Looking at these albums, we are talking about the hour of birth of European free jazz, the time when musicians started to emancipate from the American scene. In 1969 FMP released Manfred Schoof’s “European Echoes” and Alex von Schlippenbach’s “The Living Music”, both albums with larger ensembles, both groundbreaking for this new music, on both you can find all the alpha dogs: Brötzmann, Schlippenbach, Schoof, Bailey, Rutherford, Bennink, Niebergall etc. (the list on “European Echoes” is even more impressive). “The Living Music” is a typical Schlippenbach album of that time, there are the Monk-influenced phrases, the composed parts, there is the large and intense group activity. “European Echoes”, on the other hand, is structured differently, careening between group improvisations and solo performances.
From his beginnings in the 1960s Brötzmann’s has always had his own smaller and larger ensembles and his legendary trio with Fred Van Hove (p) and Han Bennink (perc, various instruments) was also epoch-making. “Balls” and “Tschüss” (the German word for “bye”) combine the group’s energy, their distinct individual style and their will to cross borders with an enormous, very often underestimated musicality. “Balls” is the rawer record with its four vital, radical compositions and even if Van Hove’s playing is sometimes light as a feather you can get a glimpse why free jazz and punk rock are very close. In contrast, “Tschüss” (indeed the trio’s goodbye album, they split after that) is the result of a rather private session consisting of miniatures. The title track is a popular German Democratic Republic hit where the three show their special kind of humor (including some singing along).
After that Brötzmann and Bennink released two highly appreciated, fantastic duo albums: “Ein halber Hund kann nicht pinkeln” (“Half A Dog Can’t Piss”) and “Schwarzwaldfahrt” (“Black Forest Ride”). The first one presents Bennink as the clown who fuels the improvisation with his drums but also with castanets, violin, hammering piano, saxophone or banjo, whereas Brötzmann is the serious bridge over troubled water. “Schwarzwaldfahrt” was recorded on a portable tape recorder in the open air in remote parts of the Black Forest in the winter of 1977 and it is absolutely unique, almost something like a field recording with the two exploring their unusual musical surrounding like children (Bennink does not even have a regular drum set, he uses everything available instead) and with the forest as a third improviser.
Later in the 1970s Brötzmann teamed up with South-African rhythm group Harry Miller (b) and Louis Moholo (dr) which was an important turn in his music towards more classical free jazz. Especially the title track of “The Nearer the Bone, the Sweeter the Meat” shows Brötzmann on bass-clarinet patiently at ease in front of Moholo’s barrage and Miller’s pizzicato pulse. This album was hard to get for years and thankfully the label will release “Open, but hardly touched”, the band’s other record, as well.
For the last two record store days Trost, Cien Fuegos’ distributor, released two rare and beautiful 7-inches. “Einheitfrontlied” is one of the most famous songs of the working class movement, it was written by Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler. It is a typical example of what is referred to as Brötzmann’s “Kaputtspielphase” (which is difficult to translate, maybe “blowing-to-pieces-era” comes close), although Brötzmann has never like this phrase which was coined by Peter Kowald. This year Trost released “Und jetzt die Sportschau” (“And now the Sportschau”) by the Globe Unity Orchestra, in which the band puts the popular jingles of Germany’s sports and football TV institution through the mill.
It would be presumptuous to rate these records, all of them are absolute classics. They have written music history (not only free jazz history). If you have the chance to buy them, don’t hesitate. The beautiful 180 g LPs are limited editions (you can buy them at instantjazz.com or at substance-store.com), some of the music is also available on CD as well (e.g. “Balls”, “Schwarzwaldfahrt”, “The Living Music” and “European Echoes” on Atavistic). Cien Fuegos’ next releases will be Brötzmann’s “For Adolphe Sax”, “Alarm” and “FMP 130” and Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink/Mangelsdorff’s trilogy “Elements”, “Couscouss de la Mauresque” and “The End”. The future is bright.
Listen to the “Sportschau” single (take 1) here:
And the “Einheitsfrontlied“ played by Brötzmann/Schlippenbach/Kowald/Lovens on Polish TV:
Can be purchased from instantjazz.com.