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Monday, October 22, 2018

Two releases by Martin Blume

By Martin Schray

German drummer and percussionist Martin Blume has been part of the improvising scene since 1983 and he has played with almost all the alpha dogs - especially in Europe: Peter Brötzmann, Peter Kowald, Johannes and Conny Bauer, Phil Minton, John Butcher, Georg Graewe, John Edwards, Joëlle Leandré, Phil Wachsmann, Mats Gustafsson, Fred Van Howe - the names of his collaborators fill half an almanac of freely improvised music. Blume, who is involved in the scene around the Loft in Cologne (he lives quite close in Bochum in Germany’s Ruhr region), is also a prolific organizer of events like the Ruhr Jazz Festival and he supports concert series like Soundtrips NRW. Apart from the excellent Low Yellow with Wilbert De Joode and John Butcher, he has released another two recommendable albums recently.

Luc Houtkamp, Steve Beresford, Martin Blume - Live in Prague 2017 (POW, 2017) ****

Improvising is everyday business. Recently, the trio of Dutch reedist Luc Houtkamp, British pianist Steve Beresford, and German drummer Martin Blume was scheduled for a gig at the Manufaktur in Schorndorf, Germany. On the day of the event Werner Hassler, the booker of the Manufaktur, received a message from Beresford that his flight from London/Gatwick was deleted without replacement (it was a no-frills airline). He couldn’t make it for the concert. So what should they do now? Should they cancel the gig? Houtkamp and Blume decided off the cuff to play as a duo, something they haven’t done before. In the end, it went really well, although I suppose that the performance might have been even better with Beresford. What the audience missed can be heard on Live in Prague 2017, the trio’s only release so far (their plan was to record another album at the Loft in Cologne after the Schorndorf show).

Martin Blume is not a drummer who pushes himself to the fore all the time (this sounds like a truism but I’ve seen drummers who do so), the aesthetics of his playing stresses the idea of entering a challenging and exciting musical dialogue with his partners. His characteristic feature is his drum kit, which he has extended according to the modular system. It consists of a huge array of little cymbals, bells, woodblocks, sticks etc. Additionally, he caresses his drumskins with the palms of his hands, with the fingertips, with different mallets and brushes. His approach contrasts very nicely with Luc Houtkamp’s saxophone philosophy, which is a rather traditional one - hardly any extended techniques like circular breathing, clicking and clapping on the keys of the tenor, hisses or guttural sounds. He prefers to play a plaintive melody here and there but he’s also able to be boisterous and harsh. All in all, he reminds me of the great free jazz blues man Joe McPhee. However, the actual sensation is Steve Beresford. He leads the way of the improvisation throwing in stride piano riffs, Tayloresque clusters, and he accelerates the pace with arpeggios and propulsive, contrasting chords that instigate Houtkamp to use guttural, forceful sax runs (listen to the first track around the 22-minute-mark). Yet, out of the blue, Beresford is able to switch to the interior of the piano and in combination with Blume’s little instruments he can change directions to microscopic sound explorations. His balanced use of electronics adds nice new sound colours as well. In a nutshell, Live in Prague 2017 is a very nice album for fans of the Schlippenbach Trio, for example.

Live in Prague 2017 is available as a CD and a download:

Watch the trio at a gig in Groningen here:

Martin Blume, Tobias Delius, Achim Kaufmann, Dieter Manderscheid - Frames & Terrains (NoBusiness, 2018) ****

Due to the similar line up, the music on Frames & Terrains has some things in common with Live in Prague 2017. At the same time, it’s also very different. Martin Blume has set up the band and said that he “"ikes bringing musicians together whose combination might sound fresh and new". Like Blume, Tobias Delius (saxophone, clarinet), Achim Kaufmann (piano), and Dieter Manderscheid (bass) are members of the Cologne scene (even if Delius lives mainly in Berlin). The quartet is assembled around Blume and Manderscheid, who have been playing together for a very long time,
both being able to switch effortlessly between pulse and coloration. Especially their quartet FOURinONE with the late Johannes Bauer and Luc Houtkamp is worth to be re-discovered. Compared to Live in Prague 2017 it’s obvious that Achim Kaufmann differs from Steve Beresford as to his harmonic subtlety and his structural style. Similar to Blume, his approach is often close to new classical music, being poetical, energetic and asymmetric. Additionally, Tobias Delius - although involved in the Amsterdam scene around the ICP Orchestra - is a very different player compared to Luc Houtkamp. On the one hand, he also combines traditional swing and hard bop sounds with elements of the blues and an old school free jazz attitude. On the other hand, he does use circular breathing, key claps, multiphonics and microtones. That said, it’s clear that he can offer a bigger variety to the music of this project.

The albums starts with Delius’ saxophone chasing turned up melody fragments into the room, hectic rushes, tension, quiteness, and exuberance are present from the very first moment. Kaufmann literally builds up the frames and terrains, in which the four musicians are able to interact. It’s true that the tenor saxophone and the piano grab the ear, yet it's a four way exchange about sound and structure. After seven minutes, Kaufmann is left alone by his combatants finishing his thoughts before a bass pattern opens a new terrain for the others to join in. All of a sudden the atmosphere has changed from cheerful gaiety to a gloomy frown, typified by Delius on clarinet in a duo with Manderscheid’s arco bass. Percussion and piano creep back into the piece almost imperceptibly. In general it’s a pure pleasure to listen how the highlights ricochet within the group, to find out who leads and who’s holding back. Whenever you think that everything has fallen apart, that there’s no rhythm anymore, no melody, when all energy seems to have left the music, suddenly an inner connection emerges, a compelling rhythm is found that often invites another little melody. A perfect example of this is the ending of the album, which displays a very tenderly introduced piano trio, delicately conceived with Manderscheid in the center, gradually picking up dynamics and speed. Twitching piano runs and firm chords open a last terrain: the trio is joined by Delius’ tenor for a light-footed, jubilant conclusion.
Frames & Terrains is available on vinyl (limited to 300 copies) and as a download.

You can listen to the music here: